Today I have the very great pleasure of introducing a friend and INCREDIBLE author, Samira Ahmed.I just got my hands on an ARC of LOVE, HATE AND OTHER FILTERS, and y’all. It is incredible. This fabulous debut will be out on January 16, 2018, and I cannot say enough good things about it.
Samira Ahmed was born in Bombay, India, and grew up in Batavia, Illinois, in a house that smelled like fried onions, spices, and potpourri. She currently resides in Chicago. She’s lived in New York City and Kauai, where she spent a year searching for the perfect mango. A graduate of the University of Chicago, she taught high school English for seven years, worked to create over 70 small high schools in New York City, and fought to secure billions of additional dollars to fairly fund public schools throughout New York State. She’s appeared in the New York Times, New York Daily News, Fox News, NBC, NY1, NPR, and on BBC Radio. Her creative non-fiction and poetry has appeared in Jaggery Lit, Entropy, the Fem, Claudius Speaks and the Spine Out novelists series.
American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy who’s “suitable” to her mother. And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe, just maybe, pursuing a boy she’s known from afar her entire life who’s suddenly falling into her orbit at school.
But unbeknownst to Maya, there is a danger looming beyond her control. When a terrorist attack occurs in another Midwestern city, the prime suspect happens to share her last name. In an instant, Maya’s community, consumed by fear and hatred, becomes unrecognizable, and her life changes forever.
Now! On to the interview!
Where do you love to be?
Kauai. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. We lived there for an all-too-brief time and try to get back almost every year so we can visit this island we love so much. The North Shore of Kauai is magical. The air is so clean, it actually feels good to breathe. And the feel of it on your skin is just so soft. There are more shades of green on Kauai than I’ve ever seen anywhere and I’ve struggled to capture both the color and varying light of Kauai in words. In so many ways, it’s beyond words. Kauai is also home to 2 of my favorite beaches–and I am a beach lover–Anini and Secret. Yes, Secret Beach and it’s just as wondrous as it sounds. You hike about 10 minutes down a steep and sometimes steep and sometimes muddy path and as you get to the bottom, you jump down onto the sand, turn left and all you see is endless ocean and a couple miles of a wide nearly empty beach. Stunning. Also, we met so many wonderful people on Kauai who showed us the true meaning of Aloha. And the North Shore is a small place–only about 4000 people or so live there. When I went back to visit last summer, the manager of the grocery store saw me walk in and ran up to give me a giant hug and welcome me back. More than just its natural beauty, Kauai, in fact, the entire state, has its own culture. Most American don’t know a lot about how Hawaii was colonized. Hawaii has an indigenous population–the true Hawaiians–who have their own language and culture. The last monarch of Hawaii, Queen Liliuokalani, was overthrown by American businessman and the Hawaii was annexed against the wishes of the majority of native Hawaiians. In fact, in 1897, the Queen and representatives from Hawaii presented Congress with a Petition Against Annexation– that included over 21,000 signatures, more than half the Hawaiian population at the time. Nevertheless, Hawaii was annexed and later became a state. Every Hawaiian island is stunning and so too is its history.
Which talent do you wish you had?
I wish I were brilliant at applied mathematics. What can I say? I’m a nerd. But as a kid, I often was very disinterested in math and science and that is probably one of the few regrets of my life. I was never going to be a number genius like Katherine Johnson who amazing contributions were finally lauded in HIDDEN FIGURES, but I wish I could be more proficient. Math makes things work. It builds cities. Got humans to the moon. Helped us defeat the Nazis. Hopefully will get us to Mars. Math is the building block of every day life. Math looks at the impossible and makes it real. Basically, it’s magic. And who doesn’t want to be a magician?
What’s your secret or not-so-secret superpower?
I have a nose like a bloodhound. In many cases, this is unfortunate because I quickly became the family member designated to sniff out when something was rotten in Denmark. Literally. Like, “Hey, is this yogurt/milk/cheese/other random food product still good? SAMIRA! Can you smell this?” And this “special” designation has continued into adulthood as my husband is now the one doing the asking. I haven’t tried foraging for truffles, but I feel like maybe I should put this power to good use other than sniffing jars of pickles gone bad.
What time of day do you love best?
Continuing on my magic theme…the golden hour. To be more specific, the golden hour at the end of summer. When the sun nears the horizon and the intensity of light softens and fades. The light is redder; it glows. This is why I love September evenings, especially in New York and Chicago. One of my great hopes as a writer is to capture with words, even in a small way, the variations of light as day descends into evening. In the warmth of that color is when I can feel the most magic of the day.
Have you ever met someone you idolized? What was it like?
I met Muhammad Ali at the 1996 Democratic Convention and I was awestruck. I’ve seen or bumped into a lot of famous or “famous” people in my life just by random coincidence and am generally not fazed or especially interested. Though when I saw Iman in real life, I was blown away by her grace. But I disgrace. So on the night that Clinton (Bill, not Hillary *weeps for our country*) was officially nominated by strange happenstance, I would up in Jackson family box (as in Jesse Jackson) and at one point in the night, the entire floor of thousands of delegates and other attendees turned to look up at the Clinton box and started chanting, Ali! Ali! Ali! It was spine-tingling. Ali was a hero of mine since childhood. And it has nothing to do with boxing. Ali was unapologetically Muslim. He was Black and proud. He was willing to make sacrifices for his ideals. He risked everything when he spoke out against the Vietnam War. He spoke out against the racism inherent in the draft. Ali set the example for what it meant to be an athlete and an activist and I think we can see the echo of his activism today, over 50 years later. At the conclusion of the Convention, people were walking around, amidst the balloons and confetti, jubilant. I came upon a group of people gathered in a hallway and when I peeked into the circle, I saw Ali. I wiggled my way to the front of the crowd and then he looked at me, raised his hand and pointed a finger at me. Ali’s Parkinson’s was already somewhat advanced at the time, so he did not often speak in public. One of his handlers nudged me toward him. Ali leaned over to my 5’2″ self and extended his hand to shake it. When I said, “As-salāmu ʿalaykum ” he gave this slight grin and said “waʿalaykumu as-salām.” I could faintly hear voices around me saying, “He called her out. He’s talking to her.” Ali was quickly ushered away. It was an interaction of moments, but meeting Ali was like touching history, crossing paths with a giant. The Greatest of All Time.