Halima Hagi-Mohamed is one of 16 authors who will feature their work at the Somali Community Outdoor Book Fair June 19. She will be featuring her first novel, "Warda Means Rose." Credit: Halima Hagi-Mohamed

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Warda is a young woman who works at her family’s Somali restaurant in Minneapolis. But when she catches the eye of a regular customer, her life changes drastically.

She is also a fictional character in Halima Hagi-Mohamed’s first novel “Warda Means Rose,” a thriller that revolves around Warda, her family, and friends during a harrowing event. Halima, a Somali author in St. Cloud, self-published the book in March. 

“People aren’t as receptive to self-published writers. We’re not given as much credit as traditionally published writers are,” Halima said. “But I try my best.” 

About a week after Halima released her novel, Fadumo Yusuf, another Somali author in the Twin Cities, started trying to find out who else was out there. At first, she posted a callout on Facebook to learn about the market for Somali authors. Two days later, Fadumo received such an overwhelming response that she decided to put on a book fair featuring the local Somali writers who responded.

“I know the value of books and stories. It can really have an impact on people’s lives,” Fadumo said. “So I thought: I’m going to do a book fair.”

As a self-published author looking for ways to promote her work, the opportunity came at a perfect time for Halima. 

The Somali Community Outdoor Book Fair will be held June 19 from 5–8 p.m. at the Dar-Us-Salaam community center in Burnsville.

From blogger to author—and publisher

Halima works as a teaching assistant and copywriter, but writing has been her passion since she was 12 years old.

Halima first started writing stories on Wattpad, a website for people to publish their own stories. She typically wrote romances for other teenage girls—her primary audience. 

“I realized at the time that they were not stories that were true to me, because they weren’t revolving around my culture or my religion,” Halima said. “I wanted to create authentic stories.”

Like most teenagers who got their start on Wattpad, Halima eventually outgrew the platform. She started a blog aimed at women called “For Somali Gabdho.” 

After compiling stories about mental health, cultural issues, religion, friendship, Islamophobia, and more, Halima discontinued her blog and published “Amilah,” a collection of short stories, in 2017. Amilah, which is Halima’s name spelled backwards, means hope in Arabic—the main theme across all of the short stories.

“I always knew that I wanted to write a book,” Halima said of her first project. “I had so many different ideas because I knew that I wanted it to revolve around my people.”

One short story Halima had written in 2015, got left behind in the making of Amilah. She adapted the story into a novel and created “Warda Means Rose” instead.

An excerpt from “Warda Means Rose”:

It was my all-time favorite part of the day, golden hour. I would catch myself getting lost in thought while glimpsing out the storefront windows. Our family restaurant was in the heart of Minneapolis and had the best view of the city. Rays of sunshine were constantly bouncing into every corner of the room. I was dumbfounded and mesmerized each time I witnessed it. I could picture myself being anywhere during this magical hour. Anywhere.

“Ay yo Warda!” My older brother Zak, aka Zakariya hollered from the kitchen. Just like that and my daydream was cut to an abrupt end.

The first Somali book fair in Minnesota

Fadumo said that, as far as she knows, there hasn’t previously been a book fair specifically for Somali authors in Minnesota. “It’s definitely the first one I’ve organized,” Fadumo joked.

Fadumo is the author of “Ayan, of the Lucky,” a novel about a young Somali woman who is trying to become a doctor while navigating a civil war in her home country. Fadumo published the novel a year ago. She is also featured in “Green Card STEM Voices,” a collection of essays from immigrants and refugees in Minnesota who work in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Sixteen authors will feature their work at the book fair. Almost 200 people will be attending, according to the Facebook event page, and the event is open to the public. The event is funded by donations from local businesses, Fadumo said.

There will also be a panel discussion with five authors who will talk about their writing and publishing experiences. Fadumo added that kids are welcome. There will be a tent designated specifically for kids and children’s books. Three children’s book authors will be reading their books at the event.

Fadumo added that she deliberately made sure authors from varying backgrounds and experiences are featured at the event. There will be authors who worked with traditional publishing houses, and self-published authors like Halima too. The works featured also vary by genre and age groups.

While the book fair highlights mostly local authors, Fadumo said she received requests that authors outside the United States set up a table too. She’s hoping she can continue hosting the book fair annually, and eventually feature authors from abroad.

Although Fadumo is tapped into the local Somali writing community, she was surprised by how many people were interested in participating.

“We have a lot of amazing authors,” Fadumo said. “There’s a lot of need for books that highlight our stories, our challenges, and the wisdom in our community.”

Hibah Ansari is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.