Fadumo Musse was 16, a high school sophomore, when she immigrated to Maine in 2011.

Although she was born and raised in Somalia and spent four years in Ethiopia before arriving in the United States, she was luckier than some. She didn’t go through war. She wasn’t in a refugee camp. She was well educated in English before she and her family moved to America to join her father, who had been here for 10 years.

And she landed in Lewiston — a city she quickly loved. 

Still, it was a transition and a journey. She wrote about the experience in a story that would later win a statewide writing award and earn her the distinction of being one of the Governor’s Young Writers of the Year for 2013.

Today Musse is a chemical engineering student with visions of a life and company serving her beloved Lewiston. And to that end, she’s taken a semester off college to focus on a new writing venture: Empress Magazine.

Name: Fadumo Musse

Age: 21

Town: Lewiston

School: University of Maine, Orono

Job: Chemical engineering student and founder of Empress Magazine

What was it like coming to Maine from Africa as a high-schooler?Coming to America was very interesting. I expected roads paved with gold, well-dressed Americans, movie stars in local cafes and beautiful streets. I didn’t find all of those things in Lewiston. However, I found a city working hard to succeed. I loved the high school. I loved the city and its people. And the more I experience here, the more I want to stay.

What did you think of your first winter here? I was excited to see snow but quickly disliked it because of the cold. But it was a magical experience, to see snow everywhere, covering everything. I think the change of the seasons is good for those of us that love art. My characters in the winter are very different from those I write about in the summer. Each season has its own mood, and that sometimes drives my stories.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? I first fell in love with writing when I was in 7th grade. I was in Ethiopia at the time. Our English teacher, Mr. Z, gave us a notebook and told us to record our daily activities as an exercise to practice our English. I remember being excited and writing about my life as if I was a character in a novel. I loved playing with words and romanticizing the small things. Long story short, my teacher liked my writing and encouraged me. Years later, when I was a junior at Lewiston High School, Mrs. Fitzpatrick, my English teacher, told me to enter the Governor’s Young Writer of the Year competition. I wasn’t sure at first, but when I won and was invited to the State House, I began believing in myself. I consider the piece I wrote, “The Land of my Memories,” my official foray into the writing world.

What do you love about writing? I don’t really have a specific reason for loving writing. I think all of us are drawn to something. Writing was always an escape for me, a way to concern myself with the journey of characters. It’s also a way to document my progression through life. When I look at my older pieces, I can see how I used to be and what mattered to me. As a teenager, I was worried about friends and fitting in. But now, as I am becoming a woman, I am worried about other things. In a way, all the characters of my stories are an extension of myself. Through them, I can face my own problems. It’s an interesting therapeutic practice.

Why major in chemical engineering rather than writing? Besides writing, I was interested in problem-solving and finding solutions. I loved chemistry in high school and when my AP chemistry teacher, Dr. Swan, mentioned chemical engineering, I did some research. It seemed perfect for me. It was a good mix of science and ingenuity. The characters in my novels are usually battling a world issue ( pollution, water shortage crisis, energy, poverty). Chemical engineering gives me the tools to problem solve and engineer solutions. Writing and engineering are cornerstones to my story telling.

Where did the idea for your own magazine come from? For a long time, I wanted to have a business. I also wanted to write. And the two didn’t seem to fit. I was cycling through a number of ideas when one day it hit me. I don’t really know when the idea for a magazine first came about, but I remember telling one of my friends. She laughed at the idea, but I was serious. A few months later here we are talking about the first issue and its launch event.

How did you come up with the name? Finding a name was challenging. We considered many names. One day my little sister and I were brainstorming when one of us said the name, Empress. It sounded so exotic, interesting and befitting for a magazine run by women.

What’s your biggest hope for Empress Magazine? My biggest hope is to give people a forum to share inspiring stories and ridiculous ideas. I want to mold all of Lewiston and Maine into the pages of the magazine.

Tell me about the first issue: The first issue is called Faces of Change: The Story of an All-American City. It features prominent figures in our community, everyday citizens, recent immigrants, city officials and people working hard to make a difference.

Most memorable interview so far for the magazine: I had a number of memorable moments with all of my interviewees. But the one that stands out the most is the one I did with Phil Nadeau, the deputy city manager. He was my longest interview and he talked about everything. He talked about history, immigrants, progress and so many captivating ideas. He gave me a better view of Lewiston.

Where can people find it? We are currently working on a website. But if you come to the launch event (Oct. 28, 5 to 7 p.m. at the Franco Center) you can purchase a copy. You can also reach us at [email protected] to request a copy.

What’s your dream for the future? My dream is to have an office in Lewiston, preferably on Lisbon Street. I want to have a team that understands the vision for the magazine. I want to organize conferences and bring the city together.

Think you’ll stay in Lewiston-Auburn? If this magazine is successful, I would love to stay. This city has so much to offer and I am excited about the future. I loved working on the magazine and hearing inspiring stories. There is so much in this city we don’t appreciate. I plan to stay and make a difference.


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