March 9, 2015
by Soniah Kamal
February 1, 2015
by Soniah Kamal
I am so thrilled to share that An Isolated Incident is a finalist for the KLF French Embassy Literature Prize. To be recognized by your country and be alongside such fellow nominees is such an honor. Prizes are so much about luck but…it sure feels good. My dog, Sultan Golden, is excited too and plans to read the novel asap (he should– he has a starring role in it!)
buy An Isolated Incident here
June 24, 2014
by Soniah Kamal
ArtsATL interview here
In 2010 Chimamanda Adichie was a speaker at the annual Decatur Book Festival. She was in Starbucks at the Decatur Square waiting for her order, and I stood a few steps away, in line, freaking out about whether I should go up to her and tell her how much I loved her work and what her short story Monkey Jumping Hill meant to me, the liberty it gave me in my own fiction. Finally I decided not to. I was shy. And also I did not want to disturb her. I figured she wanted to get her coffee in peace and not have a star struck reader twittering at her. Four years down the line I’m calling her in Nigeria for an interview and making sure I do not miss her talk about her novel Americanah in Decatur Ga, fives day after my birthday and truly my birthday present to myself. Instead of reading, Chimamanda was taking questions which meant long serpentine lines leading up to both of the mics. I was coming straight from class on an incredibly rainy evening and entered the First Decatur Baptist Church wet but in time to hear her compliment an audience member on her jacket and sense of style. Chimamanda is generous, witty, funny and smart. And always she tells the truth. Was she scared to tell the truth in this novel? “Storytellers tell the truth and are not supposed to pander just because Americans will not understand.” You are such a bold writer: “I don’t sit around thinking why I am bold, I have to go out there and sell the bloody book.” (bloody said in that ha-ha Brit way). About publisher reaction to her early work: “I like your writing but no one knows where Nigeria is. If you were Carribbean we could say you are like Edwidge Danticat. If you were Indian we could say you were like Jhumpa Lahiri. How can I be both Caribbean and Indian?” Chimamanda put Nigeria on the map in many ways and “Achebe’s work,” she said, “brought a sense of dignity to my work.” That photo above is the best birthday present. Ever!
Read my indepth interview with Chimamanda at ArtsATL
and here’s an extra Q
Me: Nigeria recently criminalized homosexuality. Americanah has a scene in which a gay man is beaten and you have gay protagonist in your short story The Shivering included in your short story collection, The Thing Around Your Neck. How does the ban on homosexuality affect these types of stories?
Adichie: The ban is a terrible, terrible law. It’s immoral and inhumane. For a character like the man in The Shivering, this law will probably force him into marrying a woman so that he can pretend to be what people want him to be, and he’s going to be unhappy and the woman he’s married to is going to be unhappy, and there’s going to be layers and layers of pretense. He will probably have a lover and have to be very careful so that he’s not attacked. I think the law is a disaster and will ultimately give rise to all kinds of suspicions that have no place in a society.
June 21, 2014
by Soniah Kamal
As Co-VP of Programming today’s meeting at The Atlanta Writers Club was a joy because who is not into food, glorious food. Unfortunately insulin resistance prevents me from eating many of the delicacies I’d otherwise dive into, but I had it from a great authority (my 10 yr old daughter who attended the meeting today) that the cheese straws that food writer Susan Puckett brought in as a sampler were awesome. Considering the rate at which they were gobbled up, they were. Moment of delight from Puckett’s talk on how she researched for her book Eat Drink Delta: the challenge of avoiding the word ‘delicious’. The second speaker was novelist Susan Rebecca White who gave a poignant talk on overcoming failure as well as how to write about food. The three passages she read from her novel A Place at the Table were lyrical and muscular and perfect illustrations on how the food we eat is a window on the life we live. White also quoted author Jill McCorkle ‘Your subconscious is smarter than you are. It knows your story before you do’– I’m going to be thinking about this for a while because I’ve always sort of viewed story and process as very much a conscious creation willed into being and not so much just there for you to tap into. Our member speaker was Glenn Pariss, author of The Renaissance of Aspirin, a medical thriller that features the disease fibromyalgia. Glenn talked about a whole host of writerly things to do such as thank everyone who invites you to give a talk (thanks Glenn!) and not to do (do not think just because you have a book out you can sit back and relax). Given the theme of food today, it was very fitting that Glenn talked about the Caipirinha, a lovely lemon cocktail popular in Brazil and also the title of one of his chapters. To conclude this meeting: drink your Caipirinha, snack on your cheese straws, and write a nice fat sizzling passage on the two.
April 18, 2014
by Soniah Kamal
Opening mail is always a thrill, especially when the package looks as if it contains a book. Even better: it opens to a friend’s novel. Thank you so much to Shikha Malaviya for her poetry collection Geography of Tongues, R. K. Biswas for her novel Culling Mynahs and Crows , and to Yawar Khan for sending me Michelle Corasanti’s novel The Almond Tree. I can’t wait to read these!!
“Shikha Malaviya’s country is composed of rough silk the color of dusk and the resonant aroma of camphor mixed with gun-smoke. Her clever and inventive poems inhabit the contested space where Western culture collides with Hindu mythology, in a resplendent crash of forms that range from prose poems to lyrical litanies, all of them deeply felt and elegantly crafted. Spending time in the company of her distinctive voice, we come to realize with great certainty and even greater delight, that Malaviya’s country is none other than our very own.” – RAVI SHANKAR, Executive Director, Drunken Boat
“Culling Mynahs and Crows: Unhappy because her career isn’t taking off, Agnirekha turns vicious, without getting to the root of her problems. The exquisitely beautiful Agnishikha, a girl from Bisrampur comes to Calcutta as the bride of a low ranking government servant. Brought up to be a good and dutiful wife, Agnishikha wants to lead a happy domestic life, but all that changes when she is brutalized by political goons and becomes a pawn in Agnirekha’s reportage. Agnishikha struggles to keep her sanity as her life crumbles away. Ten years later, Agnirekha, as a Ph. D student in Boston, finds a right partner, who helps Agnirekha come to terms with her reality and sexuality. But Agnirekha can never forget the ones she destroyed.”
“The Almond Tree: Gifted with a mind that continues to impress the elders in his village, Ichmad Hamid struggles with knowing that he can do nothing to save his friends and family. Living on occupied land, his entire village operates in fear of losing their homes, jobs, and belongings. But more importantly, they fear losing each other. On Ichmad’s twelfth birthday, that fear becomes reality.”
April 11, 2014
by Soniah Kamal
Or How I Learned To Love Mangos, Bollywood and Water Buffaloes
For an immigrant such as myself, who moved from a big city in a developing nation to battle the loneliness of living in the United States, I was eager to read Jenny Feldon’s reverse experience. In the mid-2000s, Feldon and her husband Jay, both twenty-seven years old, have been married less than a year and reside in Manhattan, where Feldon’s life is quite fulfilled with Starbucks, her dog, yoga, her blog, and her novel-in-progress. Then Jay’s company transfers him to Hyderabad, India for two years. Feldon has misgivings from the get-go. Despite the chance to, as she says, “ride elephants and visit the Taj Mahal,” she admits zero interest in traveling outside America. She also refuses to be practical. Although an expat guidebook advises taking only essentials on the plane, Feldon insists on packing designer shoes and cocktail dresses.
When the couple arrives in Hyderabad, a man tries to steal Feldon’s white YSL handbag; the drive to their apartment is an equally unnerving experience. By the end of their first day in the city, Jay falls ill with the strange chikungunya fever. He recovers soon enough and begins to settle down, but Feldon falls apart.
One could easily commiserate with Feldon’s misery and confusion. When I moved to the United States, I also felt unmoored—I had thought all of the US was some version of New York City and San Francisco combined. In much the same way, Feldon expected a glamorous expat lifestyle only to realize that India is not a brown version of Sex and the City (though I wonder if she would have adjusted any easier had she been able to let go of her preconceptions).
Many of Feldon’s complaints will strike the reader as all too valid—constant food poisoning, or being constantly pawed and photographed in public because she’s white and blue-eyed. India is dirty, dusty, and hot, with mosquitoes, stray dogs, and buffalo wandering city streets. Feldon, a coffee addict, can’t find a decent cup of coffee anywhere, not even at Café Coffee Day (a Starbucks-type place), and the plastic to-go lids melt. She tries to be part of the expat social scene but, just like the Indians, most of the other expats stare at her out-of-place designer dresses and shoes.
It is only after a serious threat to her marriage, and only after Jay reminds her they have six months left in India, that Feldon perks up enough to be curious about the country. It’s a pity that this turnaround happens in the last fifty pages because those experiences are interesting: she hires servants; she takes an interest in her driver Venkat’s sweet love story; she meets a savvy local, Anjali, and Feldon’s world opens up; she starts practicing yoga again; she gets some “retail therapy” at an old spice bazaar; she braves a local grocery in order to make Jay chicken soup; she visits a local orphanage.
That said, Feldon’s exotification of third-world poverty is disturbing. She sees beauty in the world after meeting a slum family, interacting with an orphan girl, and seeing a little barefoot errand boy. Does Feldon experience the same beauty when witnessing poverty in the US? In many instances, I was unsure of what to make of her tone. In the following passage, she goes to the cinema to watch a Bollywood film, but is she being funny or flippant?
The final credits of Dhoom 2 rolled, and I stood up, wiping a tear away with the back of my hand. I’d loved it. Well, loved it . . . but didn’t really get it. Why was everyone so happy and dance-y when life in India could be so unspeakably hard? . . . Here was something Indian I could get on board with: glitz and glamour and fairy-tale romance.
Can Feldon truly not see that Dhoom 2 is as much an escapist fantasy for her as it is for any Indian? That an American and an Indian share a common humanity? Ironically, Feldon decides she wants to be a Bollywood superstar, and to that end, starts taking Hindi lessons.
Feldon sees everything through the dichotomous prism of “her own self” or that of the “other” in an irreconcilable way. This is a shame, given that she otherwise offers social commentary, such as her focus on the Indian obsession with skin color and the glass ceilings imposed by caste, which prevent Venkat from living the American dream of rising above one’s circumstances. Venkat, who is Hindu, dislikes Christians and Muslims and yet has close Muslim friends. Feldon takes note of his hypocrisy, but she does not question it. When Hyderabad is under terrorist attack, Feldon allows Venkat to have the last word: “Muslim peoples no good people . . . No more Muslim meaning no more problem,” without any discussion or debate regarding his point of view. Is Feldon’s silence because of her lack of understanding of the social dynamics, or does she simply not think Venkat’s views may have consequences?
Feldon demonstrates deeper introspection when she writes of America; her words are subtle and nuanced. She is most engaging when she writes about her parents, in particular her relationship with her father, a man who comes across as a solid, decent human being and a very wise parent.
It would have made for a stronger memoir if Feldon explored what India meant to her, for better or worse. The subtitle, How I Learned to Love Mangos, Bollywood, and Water Buffalo, is misleading. “Love” ought to have been replaced by “tolerate” or “accept.” Many threads are left unfinished; for example, I would like to know why Monsoon Wedding is her favorite film and how she finally figured out how to do the laundry. As it is, Karma Gone Bad is a quick read written in the same clean, simple style as Feldon’s blog, and so will certainly appeal to her existing fans. It portrays an India that is confusing but not really demystified.
originally published in Jaggery Issue # 1
February 14, 2014
by Soniah Kamal
Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi are co-editors of the two anthologies Love, Inshallah and Salaam, Love in which American-Muslims have written memoir pieces on love, marriage, sexuality and the million ways that life comes in-between and around. I highly recommend both anthologies and will always feel sad that the piece I’d submitted for Love, Inshallah could not be included because I’d not grown up in America (and therefore not American enough– yes, I know, I’m always the ‘other’ no matter what or where. LOL).
I had the opportunity recently to interview Ayesha Mattu for ArtsATL. Enjoy!
ArtsATL: The introduction to Love, InshAllah states the intent is to promote a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Muslim for non-Muslims but also for fellow Muslims. How do these two groups differ in their understanding of Muslim women?
Mattu: Non-Muslims think Muslim women are oppressed, and Muslims have high standards for the conduct and appearance of Muslim women. Neither of which leaves much space for women to experience or admit to a full range of human experiences. The Muslim women in Love, InshAllah challenge those expectations by leading far more complex, interesting and complicated lives than either of those groups allow.
Of course, the Muslim men in Salaam, Love also challenge stereotypes about them as oppressive or frightening by sharing nuanced love stories which challenge those assumptions.
ArtsATL: “Muslims don’t date,” says Ahmed Ali Akbar in his memoir “A Pair of Photos,” and so sums up the great dilemma in Muslim culture: how to find a spouse if you have no way of getting to know them beforehand. And yet these anthologies prove, of course, that Muslims do date even though the concept of dating seems to vary from Muslim to Muslim. Has working on these anthologies changed your own thinking about the dating and love lives of American Muslims and love in general?
Mattu: Yes, absolutely, especially because I have a son, nieces and nephews, all of whom I’ll be having conversations with about love and dating soon enough. Too many Muslims are told, “Dating is haram [impermissible],” with that being the beginning and the end of the conversation. Every parent and imam [religious leader] in the nation should read these books. They show the wide range of dating that is taking place in Muslim communities, from family-facilitated courtships to couples living together before marriage.
The most harmful ideas we can instill in our children are that lust, love, attraction are unnatural or forbidden to feel. As a parent you can provide a values system for a child, while also acknowledging the normal desires that make us human. For example, in Salaam, Love, writer after writer talks about the way pornography (instead of parents) shaped their ideas of women, relationships, sex and love. If we create a vacuum of silence and shame around these issues, something else is going to rush in to fill the void.
read full here
January 5, 2014
by Soniah Kamal
Author Nicki Salcedo has four kids. Yes. Four. All under the age of nine. Her debut novel All Beautiful Things just got published. She’s active in the local writers community and was past president of Georgia Romance Writers. She exercises everyday getting up ridiculously early to do so. Everyday. She takes care of her parents. The list of what Nicki does is never ending. If anytime the phrase ‘i don’t know how she does it…’ applies, it applies here because I really don’t know how she does it all. So Atlanta Writers Club invited Nicki as our December 2013 speaker to share her secrets to time management. Turns out, she does sleep and that the exercising (for now, boot camp) is part of taking care of herself because, like Nickie says, if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anything else, including your writing. This really hit home because, I do think, if you let yourself go, then there goes your energy, motivation, and self discipline to write. But back to square one which is, for me, four children– Feel free to give me the finger over the following but after having lived in the U.S. for so long, I am always uber impressed by mother-authors/author-mothers (and yes I do think the order of identity makes a difference…) for how they manage to write while taking care of children, often with no help at all, or very little help (hailing from Pakistan where 24- hr domestic help is so readily available, I truly KNOW what it is to bring up kids and be artistically creative in countries like those versus the U.S.). To find the physical energy kids require with the mental energy writing requires is a constant juggling act where balance needs to be constantly reexamined and found. Nicki’s talk then was very timely given that December and January is the season of evaluation and resolution. Thanks for accepting our invite to speak to AWC Nicki and congratulations on
December 23, 2013
by Soniah Kamal
Success doesn’t mean that there won’t be failures and failure doesn’t mean that there won’t be successes. At the end, all you’ll really remember is how people treated you before, after, and in between them. Have a great new year. Make outlandish resolutions; then break them for the fun of it. And thank you from my whole heart for stopping by my website.
November 19, 2013
by Soniah Kamal
If you haven’t been to The Goat Farm Arts Center in Atlanta you’re missing a unique creation of steel and wood and nature and technology that hosts wonderful art of all kinds from exhibitions to plays to literary festivals. This past week Scott Daughtridge’s monthly reading series Lost in the Letters hosted the first ever The Letters Festival and was organized by Scott, Stephanie Dowda and Alex Gallo Brown. I was truly blown away by their line up of readers/speakers who you can check out on the TLF site.
I was invited to be one of the ‘secret’ readers which meant those who attended the reading had no idea who the hell was reading, a really novel and interesting concept.gamble.surprise. ( I mean I can officially say I was a surprise:). And I was humbled that audience bought tickets to be there! The secret reading took place in a open warehouse sort of setting with red lighting and there was even (unintentional) live music provided, every few minutes, by the train going by– kept reminding me, from some reason I’m still trying to fathom, of Anna Karenina in a white tulle dress running in front of a train (morbid mind, mine). I read a brand new short short, a prose poem and, for the first time, from my novel! Fellow secret readers Bruce Covey and Johannes Göransson read some stellar poetry, and Chad Prevost read a funny essay about being a tenure track professor.
If you missed The Letters Festival this year– here’s to hoping there will be many more!!