Author, essayist and interfaith activist Saadia Faruqi talks to us about her middle grade novel about a young Pakistani American girl in Meet Yasmin!
A lot of your work has been with nonprofits and in the interfaith space, what prompted you to take to fiction?
My fiction is just another form of my activism. I realized after more than a decade of interfaith and intercultural work that stories are far more powerful in changing perceptions than statistics or data. So I decided to change my format of message delivery from nonfiction to fiction.
What was the inspiration behind Yasmin’s character?
My daughter was starting to read independently but she didn’t like any of the early readers on the market. I wanted to find her books that reflected her experiences as a brown, first generation American girl, but it proved almost impossible from our local book store or library. Finally, being a writer, I decided to write something that my own kids would be happy reading. Yasmin has a lot of my daughter in her, and a lot of many of the brown kids I saw around me.
With your book of short stories you wanted to tackle stereotypes and lack of representation of Pakistani stories, what do you hope to achieve with Yasmin?
I think the aim is the same, regardless of the book I write. Meet Yasmin! shows a Pakistani American family doing everyday things that all families do, and it showcases a young girl who is like any other little girl in America. In this way, my hope is that readers will come to realize that everything they read about South Asians in the news is not correct, and that their South Asian neighbors are just like them.
Name five of your favorite children’s books with South Asian characters.
I could name a lot, thanks to my podcast Lifelines in which I recommend books. The Night Diary by Veera Heeranadani is an excellent book that highlights the story of partition. Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan is also really good. The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani Dasgupta is quite awesome. Another South Asian favorite in my house is Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge, and Step Up to the Plate Maria Singh by Uma Krishnaswami.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Don’t give up writing if you get rejected. Rejections are part of the game, and they make you stronger by motivating you to improve yourself. Keep writing, because most writers get successful after at least two or three manuscripts under their belt.
What further adventures will Yasmin be up to?
I’ll wait for the appropriate time to announce additional Yasmin stories, although I will tell you that Yasmin is here to stay!
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