Samira Ahmed never dreamt her idea for a book about a Muslin Girl living in America will ever find a publisher, but it did. Not only that, but it made it onto the New York Times Best Seller list for YA books in its second week.
Teresa Manring of Chicago Magazine deems Ahmed as Chicago’s Latest YA Superstar.
Ahmed, who is Indian-American and lives in Hyde Park, Chicago, says that while growing up, the city gave her some hard lessons. Her first encounter with racism was when she was 8 years old on a day trip to Chicago. While sitting in the back seat of her parents' car, she heard a man yell: “Go home you goddamned fucking Iranian!” But her 8-year old brain couldn't process the incident properly. “I just figured racists are really bad at geography,” she says.
But the seed was implanted. Ahmed kept exploring more about incidents like that, and reading about their impact, until it drove her to capture the moment when a young person first confronts overt racism.
A book is born:
"Seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz can’t wait to graduate from her small town high school. She dreams of studying film in New York City and kissing a boy (or, maybe two). Her parents forbid both. While she wrestles with parental expectations and her own desires, Maya’s world is rocked by a horrifying act of domestic terrorism that ignites an outbreak of Islamophobia that threatens to alter the course of her life forever."
The novel, which Ahmed spent seven years on and off writing (see below why), follows Maya Aziz, a high school senior and aspiring documentary filmmaker living in Batavia, the Chicago suburb where Ahmed grew up. When an act of domestic terror hits Springfield—perpetrated by someone whose name is also Aziz—Maya must navigate the wave of Islamophobia that passes through her hometown.
Ahmed explains to us in her own word how she came up with the idea, her process and how she became a published author.
Why it took me 7 years?
by Samira Ahmed
Seven years back I had an idea for a book. About a girl, like other girls. With dreams and ambitions and fears and a love-hate relationship with makeup. Living in an American town. An idyllic suburb, until it’s rocked by a wave of Islamophobia.
I started writing then stopped, then started, then had a baby. Then wrote again and put the manuscript in a drawer. Had another baby. Wrote some more. Then, the drawer again, because life. After a long, hard stare-down with the manuscript, I decided to give it the ‘ole college try.
Fast Forward to 2016:
Six months ago, I could not have imagined this moment.
Five months ago, I sent a tweet into the world about my book, SWIMMING LESSONS (the tentative title for the book), and my indefatigable agent,Eric Smith, liked it. A few days later, he offered rep.
That was improbable enough.
We went out on sub. Anxiety dreams and much pastry eating commenced.
Then, Eric called me, and told me unicorns were real. There was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow…
The world came to a stop. And the star I wished upon long ago, alighted in my trembling hands.
My book was going to exist, in the real world, beyond my imagination and my hard drive. One day brown-skinned kid with a funny name will walk into a bookstore, find my book on a shelf, and see a glimpse of themselves and know they are beautiful and wanted. One day a teenager who looks nothing like me will go to a library and pick up this book and find a brown girl, a Muslim girl, with feelings that could be their feelings in a world that they share.
My heart is full.
And readers are grateful:
Read what they have to say.
"This is such an important book, and I hope it gets the love it deserves. Similar in importance to The Hate U Give, I hope this book stays on the NYT list for as long as it can, and that people continue to pick it up. I can’t recommend it enough." - Korrina
"This book touches on so many important subjects. On what it's like to be an Indian American Muslim teen living in a country that is full of people that hate her and her religion. It touches on family life and the importance of family & so many more things. Overall I really enjoyed this book." - Heather