Crab Fat Chats with Saadia Faruqi

closeupSaadia Faruqi is a Pakistani-American fiction and nonfiction writer. She writes for Huffington Post and The Islamic Monthly about the global contemporary Muslim experience and interfaith dialogue, among others. She’s worked with law enforcement on cultural sensitivity issues and offers college courses on a variety of topics related to Islam. She is editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret, a magazine for Muslim art, poetry, and prose. Saadia’s short stories have been published in several American literary journals and magazines such as Catch & Release, On the Rusk, In Flight, and The Great American Literary Magazine. Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan is her debut collection of short stories.
Crab Fat: Can you describe what it’s like to grow up in one part of the world and move to a different part as an adult? Did you experience any “culture shock”?
Saadia: I didn’t have as many problems as other immigrants do, mostly because I didn’t have a language barrier. I spoke English in Pakistan and studied mostly western curricula in high school and college. Also, my parents were big readers and I was fed on a steady diet of British and American novels. Of course, one misses home and family but it hasn’t been too bad, and I’ve been here almost two decades now, so this is home. I suppose for me, the most difficult aspect of it is exactly that: a conflicted or dual sense of home. You have memories of one place and your life is in another, and how you grapple with that and what you teach your kids is somewhat of a dilemma. I suppose that’s why I like writing about home and what it means in that conflicted sense.
Crab Fat: How has American culture influenced your writing?
Saadia: So far I’ve stayed closer to Pakistan and Pakistani culture in my writing. This isn’t only because most of my formative years were spent there and I identify more with that, but also because I sometimes feel like I’m a spokesperson for my culture. There are very few writers writing about Pakistan or Muslim culture, and I feel like I have a platform which I should use for that purpose. So my first book, Brick Walls, a short story collection, is entirely based in Pakistan because I want Americans to see the beauty and complexity of a place that they usually have a negative perspective about. But I have a feeling that my next book will be about the Pakistani-American immigrant experience, which of course will be interesting because it will be a mix of American and Pakistani culture. That’s the sort of conflicted duality I like writing about.
Crab Fat: We saw mention of a children’s book series in the works on your website and we’d love to know more about that—like any themes, characters, general info that won’t give too much away. Are you working toward a specific end with children’s literature?
Saadia: Muslim Americans generally feel that there is a complete absence of children’s books with Muslim or brown main characters. I have two kids and they love to read, so I know firsthand that most of the books they are reading have white protagonists. They don’t get to read any stories about kids like themselves, those with hyphenated identities, those whose parents are from a different place and culture than they are. They also don’t get to read about situations they are facing all the time, bullying because of their faith or their ethnicity for instance. I found this to be so disturbing that I decided to do something about it. Currently, I have two separate chapter books complete, which can both be grown into series, about Pakistani-American children just doing normal American things. Hopefully, I’ll be able to find a publisher for them soon.
Crab Fat: What about your short story collection, Brick Walls? Can you tell us about the inspiration/influences that helped you create the collection?
Saadia: Brick Walls is really a part of my activism. For the last decade, I’ve been organizing interfaith programs and training law enforcement on cultural sensitivity. I found that stereotypes about Muslims and Pakistanis are really prevalent and I decided to use storytelling to change those perceptions. You see, people get bored with statistics or research but when you tell them a story they sit up and listen. Brick Walls is a collection of seven short stories based in reality but with fictional characters. Each story deals with one aspect of Pakistani culture that is negative and usually highlighted by our media: terrorism, poverty, corruption, sexism, and so forth. The aim of the collection is to remove stereotypes and show the reality of Pakistani culture, and therefore by extension, Muslim culture.
Crab Fat: What kind of books do you like to read? Can you name a few of your favorite authors or give us some recommendations?
Saadia: I like reading issues books, honestly. I can’t just read an entertaining story anymore, although there was a time when I lived for romance. But now maybe because I have changed and become an issues person, it’s important for me to read books that talk about something important, something that gives a message through storytelling. I like reading books that have a faith-based or interfaith topic, and also those with hyphenated main characters. In terms of recommendations, I have a list that I’ve compiled for Huffington Post this past holiday season, I hope some of those books become your next favorites.
Crab Fat: We see that you’ve traveled quite a bit, can you tell us about your favorite place and how traveling has informed your writing?
Saadia: That’s a tough question. Everywhere I’ve lived has had its pros and cons. We moved around so much because my husband is in IT and he would keep getting laid off during the tech bubble. So even though I enjoyed living in so many different cities it was still a very stressful time for us and I associate most of those cities with the stress and worry. Personally, I enjoy living in Houston the most, although for many Americans that would be a strange choice. There’s no beauty or culture here, it seems. I guess what I’m trying to get at is that home is not really a place for me, it’s more of an experience. And my best experiences in every sense have been in Houston. So that’s my favorite place even though it’s really hot and flat. In terms of my writing, there are several locales that I’ve lived in which will probably appear in my writing as time goes on. We’ll see.
Crab Fat: Last question, if you could meet any person from history, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
Saadia: Just one? I have a whole list. I think the person I’d really like to meet is Shakespeare, who is the reason I fell in love with storytelling in the first place. He was the ultimate master of such a variety of genres: romance, tragedy, political thrillers, mysteries, comedies, you name it, he was great at it. We used to study Shakespeare’s plays and a few of his sonnets in high school and I got so enamored that I began reading about his personal life and what literature was like during that period. I’d love to go back in time and pick his brain, find out how he created such amazing plots and characters. I’d love to sit among the audience at one of his plays and just watch. And if I could ask Shakespeare one question I’d ask: who or what was your inspiration?

1 Comment

  1. Great interview! I got a chance to meet Saadia Faruqui during a book signing event at my local book store. It was a pleasure to hear her speak about the activism she does through her writing and professional life.

    I look forward to reading her first novel when it’s ready.

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