Sunday Q&A: Gaby Osterburg Azhar


“What Isn’t Remembered”: A Courtyard Chat on Life and Writing

What do you remember about the photo on the cover of your book?

“I don’t really recall anything from it — I was too young.

It was part of a collection of old photos that my mother had that I recently unearthed that I thought would be perfedt for the book.

It was in Germany. I would have been about 2, maybe 3. I think my mother told me to squat down. It looks like I might have been sitting on the potty but I’m not.”

What was post-World War II Germany like for a child growing up there?

”You know, when you’re a child, you don’t really know about everything that is going on around you. There was probably a food shortage. Some deprivation. But I never felt it.”

What inspired you to write this book?

“I started gathering my writing about 8 years ago when I had to write every week to prompts. It kept me on task. I don’t know if I would have done it on my own, I might not have been so disciplined. There are a few pieces in there that came right out of my head without any prompts.”

I write things as they occur to me. I didn’t set out to write one type of piece. I just put together these pieces. It depends on the time of day, day of the month.”

When you put all these pieces together — ranging from marriage to death to absurd scenes like seniors day at Golden Corral — what does it feel like?

“I just dove into it slowly. One thing I have learned over the years as a writer is to pay attention to details, and not just race along to reach the finish— But not too many details — I don’t want to bore my readers to death.”

“What Isn’t Remembered” is a delightful, breezy mix
of memoir, essay, short story, and poetry.

Has your love of music influenced your writing? And what impact has music had on your life?

“I scored very high on the Myers-Briggs personality test when it comes to music, although I don’t play a musical instrument, couldn’t read music if my life depended on it, and can’t really sing—although I can occasionally channel Marlene Dietrich.

So obviously, music appears in several pieces that I have written, from meeting James Brown to visiting B. B. King’s Blues Club in Memphis.

My first serious music memory comes from when I was 13 years old, and Fats Domino sang, “Walking to New Orleans” on WBAM, the big BAM out of Montgomery, Alabama. 

I am currently working on a piece about Ahmet Ertegen, a Turkish immigrant who wrote R&B songs and founded Atlantic Records. He had a fitting end for a music lover:  He was 84 years old and back stage at a Rolling Stones concert when he fell and hit his head.  What a way to go!”

What’s the purpose of writing? Why do you write?

“First of all, it’s to fulfill a commitment, because I’m commited to my writer’s group. They give me a prompt and I have to deliver.

Beyond that … It’s very satisfying. It really is. Especially when you feel good about a piece and you get done and say, ‘Wow!’ ”

BONUS CONTENT: Listen to full-length interview by Electric City Editor Frank Etheridge with Gaby Osterburg Azhar. Recorded 3.20.2022.

Age: 75

Hometown: Celle, Germany

Education: East Highland Elementary on 18th Street, Winterfield Elementary on the southside on Clover Lane, South Columbus Junior High School (now Eddy Middle School), Baker High School

Professional Background: Office administration, grant writing, newsletter editing

Favorite local restaurant: Cracker Barrel (“I love their grilled rainbow trout.”)

Favorite writers: Rudyard Kipling, Rick Bragg, Pat Conroy

Worst thing about being a German immigrant in America as a child: “My first day of school, entering fifth grade, we were sent home form our first day of school bercause we weren’t wearing dresses. I didn’t understand why the children were so rowdy. Why everyone wasn’t sitting quietlly at their desks waiting for class to begin. I didn’t understand this racing around the room and not standing up for the teacher when she walked in the room.”

Best thing about being a German immigrant in America as a child: “The best memory really is when we got a television.  We didn’t have one in Germany, and when we came here, a kind neighbor would occasionally invite us to come and watch TV.  One day Mama called us home, and there was our very own television. It was a small used one with a round screen, and we were thrilled. Now we could watch the Lone Ranger!”

Gaby Osterburg Azhar in the courtyard of her Historic District home. 3.20.2022

About the author

Frank Etheridge

Native son and veteran journalist Frank Etheridge is Editor of Electric City, a digital media outlet dedicated to documenting the news and culture of Columbus, Georgia.

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