Tuesday, May 20, 2008
SNEAK PEEK: Keep your eye on this new author!
Amjed Qamar is the author of Beneath My Mother's Feet, a coming-of-age story set in modern-day Pakistan (reviewed here yesterday), which will be in stores on June 17. The book has received, and is very deserving of lots of early attention: a Kirkus starred review (May 15, 2008 issue), Junior Library Guild Selection (April-September 2008 catalog), a Book Sense nomination, and a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick (Fall 2008). How lucky for us that this rising star of an author lives in our very own community!
Tell us a little about your childhood in India and Columbus, Ohio.
I spent most of my childhood growing up in Columbus, OH. My parents immigrated from India when I was a baby. I attended school in Columbus during my elementary and middle school years and then went on to attend high school in Westerville when we moved there. I loved school and reading. I must admit I was a quiet child growing up and was more of listener than a talker.
How is your children's experience growing up in the U.S. different than yours was?
Interesting question. My children have a lot more opportunities than I did growing up. Mostly because I was limited in what I was allowed to do because my parents were quite protective. I never played sports or did after school activities; my children today are active in team sports, enjoy taking other classes, and doing things with their friends that I couldn't do at their age. Also, they have traveled around the world. Since the time my parents immigrated when I was a baby, I'd not been on a plane until after I got married. My kids have been on boats, planes, trains, rickshaws, horses, and camels!
What advice do you have for teachers with Muslim children in their classes?
This question was tough to answer because growing up as the only Muslim child in my most of classes, I can honestly say that I never had any issues in school or with the teachers. MY teachers were amazing, wonderful people. You have to understand I loved school and idolized my teachers. They were all supportive and I can't recall any instance where a teacher did not support me. On the flip side though, teachers are probably more aware that most issues that do arise, or any insecurities, or uncomfortable situations that come up generally involve your peers, friends, and fellow classmates. But I find that given today's climate, kids and people in general, especially in our community, are amazingly sensitive, aware, and open-minded.
Who were your female role models when you were growing up?
My mother was my biggest role model and influence. She struggled to raise five kids through a lot of adversity, economic issues, family issues, language barriers, her own education limitations, but she never gave up. She has been through a lot and she made me realize the importance of education.
Also my teachers, and yes, Oprah too. I watched that show nearly everyday after school since it came on. She was like the big sister I never had.
How typical in present-day India and Pakistan is your character Nazia's struggle to choose her future, rather than following the traditional path of an arranged marriage?
Most families in Nazia's situation just don't have the funds to send their daughters on to further their education. Generally, there are several kids in a family and the sons do get priority in this regard because they are the ones expected to gain employment and care for their families. As people pass on what they've learned from one generation to the next, and people are open to it, then the realization that educating women is vital does spread. Pakistanis are working hard to inform and educate people in this regard, opening more schools, creating more awareness, and generally providing more opportunities for women. Women who are educated in Pakistan hold high positions, are very successful in the fields of business, law, medicine, education, arts and media. When this success is filtered down to the less fortunate, then it has more wide-spread benefits. As a regular traveler to Pakistan, I have seen this first hand and am so proud!
Tell us the story of how this book came to be written and published.
This book took about a year to write, a year to edit, and it spent another year in line to be published. The story had been in my head for a very long time--I lived in Pakistan for five years, and I always seemed to remember the children the most. I saw such fortitude in their eyes, and such joy over the smallest things, and I wanted to honor that. I wanted to let the world know that in Pakistan I saw families who worked hard, women who were independent, and girls who were head strong. There females were capable, self-assured, and bold individuals living with dignity in a Muslim country, defying most western stereotypes and myths. If I conveyed even a small portion of this strength in Nazia, then I feel satisfied.
Can you give us a "sneak peek" of your next writing project?
The next book is set in the United States and deals with the balancing act some teens face when trying to align home life and high school.