Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Twinja Book Reviews 3rd Annual Diversity Month Day Six: Interview with @SaadiaFaruqi + Month long #giveaway

We're on to our second week, and we're still having a blast. We'll be dropping in and co-hosting a Twitter chat with the creators of #Largefears with Edith Campbell(which we're happy to be apart of!) but we're really excited about our next guest.
Twitter is good for something right? Otherwise we would've never crossed paths to host our next guest. The content they create is beautiful, and to be honest, with what's going on in the country, so what we need right now.
So without further adieu...
Twinja Book Reviews Annual Diversity Month Event Day Six:
Saadia Faruqi

Thank you for stopping by the blog! Why don't you introduce yourself to readers!

I’m a Pakistani American author of "Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan". I was born and raised in Pakistan and currently I reside in Houston TX with my husband and children. I’m also editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret, an online literary magazine for Muslim art, poetry and fiction.

What can you tell us about your journey being a writer?

I never thought I’d end up writing professionally. People are very career oriented in Pakistan and creative arts were not considered appropriate when I was growing up. But I remember writing short stories as a child, sometimes even translating other writers’ works from the native Urdu to English in which I was more comfortable. When I was in business school I found that I would often use very descriptive and flowery language when writing papers on very boring topics. But writing was always just an idea, not even a hobby at that point, and certainly nothing that I could base my life around, of course.

But once a writer always a writer I suppose. After I moved to the United States I ended up writing grants and other sorts of technical penmanship. I also became deeply involved in diversity and interfaith work in my community and somehow ended up blogging about these topics for a number of online platforms. It grew very organically and suddenly I was writing more creative things without really intending to.

Oh, give us more details!

I write about this at length at Xojane which is an awesome women’s magazine. A few years ago I was called to train the Houston Police Department on cultural sensitivity particularly as it related to Muslims. That year-long training really taught me a lot as far as stereotypes of Muslims, and more importantly as a Pakistani. I was frequently asked about my life in Pakistan, foods, dress, culture, all sorts of things that brought home to me the fact that Americans were not satisfied with the typical media images of bearded terrorists and veiled women. I decided to write something that showed them reality but in a fun way.

At the same time my own children who are American, don’t have sufficient knowledge about their culture and heritage, and there are hardly any books they could read that would entertain and educate at the same time. So those experiences of several years led me to write a short story collection Brick Walls: Tales of hope & Courage from Pakistan.

What inspires the content you create?

I’m editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret, a literary magazine for Muslim art, poetry and fiction. I found through my own writing journey that there very few spaces, online or otherwise, where Muslims could be published or even just share their unique creativity. So I built Blue Minaret with the express purpose of showcasing the talent of these aspiring writers, poets and artists and also to slowly change the narrative of Muslims in the media.

We talk about diversity a lot on our blog, so we're curious to how your experience was growing up!

When I was growing up, Pakistan was a pretty good place to live in. Sure, we had problems, but nothing like you see in the news today. I was a Karachi girl, which meant something really cool in those times. Karachi was the New York of Pakistan, the financial district, the art scene, the best colleges, everything was in Karachi. So I grew up in a happy existence even though we weren’t financially well off. We had the one thing that is a big privilege in Pakistan: education.

I went to a catholic convent and did my O’levels there through the University of Cambridge, then I went to the most exclusive business school in the entire country. But I think back now and I see that I really did have an amazingly diverse experience. I saw poverty and suffering in my own backyard, and I gained a lot just by being part of that national experience. One certainly learns important lessons like empathy and gratitude in times like those, and it’s my only regret that my own children don’t have those experiences living in America.

Do you feel well represented in books and/or media?

Obviously as a Muslim, I feel misrepresented more than anything. Numerous media studies prove without a shadow of a doubt that Muslims are portrayed very stereotypically in the media. But I have the added obstacle of being a covered Muslim woman, a brown immigrant and a South Asian. There’s a lot stacked against me, but I think awareness is a first step in solving the problem. Recently we have seen a few television shows like Aziz Ansari’s Master of None on Netflix which is really trying to break those barriers and represent people of color in a new light. I think I will see some major changes in my lifetime.

Are there any books or form of media that's getting representation right?

There are some upcoming Muslim authors who you could follow online. Goodreads has a couple of good lists like Positive Muslim fiction. There is much more to be done but definitely it is a good start for those who want to read the book less traveled.

What are creators not doing enough of when it comes to the conversation of inclusion?

Creators are not taking risks. They want to follow the newest trend, which is always the safe thing to do, the most chance of a profit. Supporting writers of color and other diverse groups is very risky and I'd like to see more chances being taken. At least in America, the small presses are the risk takers in this regard - even though they cannot afford it oftentimes - while the huge publishers play it very safe.

What has been your favorite character to create and why?

That’s like asking a mother which is her favorite child! If I had to choose I would say the nameless mother who searches for her sleep walking son. This was a character I wrote in a short story Mother, published in an American literary magazine long before Brick Walls. It’s the story of an Arab American mother whose ten year old son sleepwalks out of the house in the middle of the night and is never found again. I think she really spoke to me in terms of the fears and desires a parent has, and what it’s like living not just as a person but as a representative of your faith in trying times. The story was discussed by a book club in my local library, which shows that it resonated with many other people for a variety of reasons.

What has been the piece of your work you've taken most pride in?

I love all those who submit to Blue Minaret, whether it's a middle schooler who wrote his first rhyming poem or the poetess with her umpteenth spoken word video. I'm so impressed by the raw talent that Muslims are exhibiting in writing fiction in all sorts of genres.

What types of books(or media if you'd prefer) did you like consuming growing up?

Growing up in Pakistan we had access to British books mostly, so my daily diet as a child consisted of Enid Blyton. Then growing up we studied all the classic authors and poets who may have seemed a chore to others but to me they were an absolute delight. For me personally Shakespeare had the most transformative effect in terms of language, which is not something you’ll hear a lot of American authors say. I was, and still am, fascinated by the fact that with a very succinct writing style he was able to not only create amazing storylines but also a wide variety of stories that today we would classify as thrillers, romance, literary fiction, historical fiction and so much more!

What is the book(or books) that have the biggest impact on you and why?

Many books from my childhood had a huge impact on me. Growing up in Pakistan during the 1980s and 1990's there wasn't much in terms of entertainment apart from reading, so much of my childhood was spent buried inside a book, pretending to be a character. More recently, I read a memoir called Tears of the Desert, about the genocide in Darfur. Although technically non-fiction it was so well-written with twists and turns and a very tight plot and amazing characters that I still think about it sometimes quite unexpectedly. That’s what good writing is, when art imitates life and you can read a real life account as if it’s a thriller.

Why do you write the types of books you write, and do you plan diversifying genres in the future?

I honestly write whatever strikes my fancy. I think most short story writers are that way, because there is less of an obsession with genre when you’re writing short stories. It also helps that I write non-fiction as well, so I’m really not ready to be pinned down just yet. My plans for the future are just as diverging as the present. I just completed a manuscript for 7-10 year olds about a Pakistani American girl who pretends to be a ninja to fight bullies who call her a terrorist. At the same time I’m also writing a novel about Pakistan.

What would you tell your teenage self that you wish you knew now about your growth?

I would tell her to stop whatever she’s doing and start writing. I spent almost 15 years doing other things and only now as I'm approaching 40 have I found that my true passion is writing. If I had figured this out sooner I’d have already studied the craft and honed my skills. I think the younger you are when you start taking writing seriously, the better.

Which fictional world would you want to live in and why?

I would love to live in Enid Blyton's The Enchanted Forest. That was such a cool place! If there is a wishing chair as well, my life would be complete. 

What type of advice can you give to those starting out?

Write a lot, even if you think its crap. It helps you practice just like playing the piano does. Also, read read read. I’m always amazed by aspiring writers who say they don’t like to read. How can you form opinions about writing styles and learn about structure and such when you don’t read other peoples’ work?

What sites would you recommend for those trying to educate themselves better on the conversation about diversity in books and media?

In the U.S. the only big one right now is We Need Diverse Books think otherwise one is left to the random article here or Twitter discussion there. But at least there is a growing awareness.

Finally, where can folks go for updates, and to learn more about your projects going on?

My website is www.saadiafaruqi.com where you can learn about my writing projects, both fiction and non-fiction. Also, the Blue Minaret website is www.blueminaret.com

Saadia Faruqi is a Pakistani American writer of fiction and nonfiction. She writes for a number of print and online publications about the global contemporary Muslim experience and about interfaith dialogue. She has trained law enforcement on cultural sensitivity issues and offers community college classes on a variety of topics related to Islam and Muslims. She is editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret, a magazine for Muslim art, poetry and prose. Her short stories have been published in several American literary journals and magazines. “Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan” is her debut fiction book.


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