Defining Home: Conversations with Sabaa Tahir and Sehba Sarwar
On Thursday, April 26, 2023, Poly’s Global Initiatives Program hosted a Young Adult Open Book event. The event featured an engaging dialogue between Sabaa Tahir, acclaimed author of All My Rage and the bestselling An Ember in the Ashes series, and Sehba Sarwar, a local Pakistani-American artist, and writer known for her work Black Wings. Throughout the event, Tahir and Sarwar explored a wide range of topics, including Tahir’s inspirations, creative process, personal anecdotes, and the significance of representation in literature.
First, Tahir captivated the audience with her account of All My Rage, a captivating novel that seamlessly intertwines the lives of contemporary Californian teenagers and their parents’ early years in Pakistan. The book delves into the multifaceted experience of growing up in a multicultural environment, tackling themes of identity, culture, and the arduous quest for belonging. Through her answers, I found Tahir’s witty and refreshing sense of humor delightful and helpful in adding a touch of lightness to the profoundness of her works.
The concept of home was a recurring theme in the conversation, with Tahir defining it as encompassing her family, children, parents, and even her beloved cat, but most importantly, Tahir expressed that she finds “home” in stories. I was touched when Tahir explained that she finds comfort in stories because they can be transformed into whatever you want them to be; they are safe and comforting. Additionally, Tahir explained that you have control over the stories you write, though life may not be the same. Furthermore, she shared insights into her multicultural upbringing, having lived in Pakistan, London, and eventually settling in California. This exploration of cultural identity seamlessly extended into the discussion of All My Rage, which Tahir described as a nuanced exploration of Pakistani, Muslim, and Californian desert cultures.
Tahir also revealed the origin of her book’s title, initially conceived as “Burn It Down,” as a means to channel her own anger. All My Rage portrays the experience of being trapped in a situation where all choices seem unfavorable, a theme rooted in Tahir’s personal encounters during her formative years. She highlighted a pivotal scene from the perspective of Salah Hobein, a character created a decade or more prior to the book’s publication, which echoes Tahir’s own childhood experiences and pays homage to a girl from her past.
A poignant moment unfolded when Tahir shared the heartbreaking story of her friend’s fentanyl overdose, shedding light on the deep-seated taboo surrounding drug use within the Pakistani community in America. Tahir emphasized the necessity of resources for those grappling with addiction and emphasized the importance of eradicating the stigmas associated with drug use. This candid discussion underscored the power of literature to address pressing societal issues while promoting empathy and understanding.
Throughout the conversation, Tahir demonstrated remarkable candor regarding her writing process, openly acknowledging the numerous iterations and challenges involved in framing her book. Sarwar, bringing her unique perspective as a Pakistani-American writer and artist, posed thought-provoking inquiries that delved into Tahir’s motivations, creative methodology, and personal encounters. Together, they explored the complexities of representation in literature and the inherent difficulties of tackling sensitive subjects.
In summary, the event proved to be an intellectually stimulating and introspective dialogue between two accomplished authors. It presented the community with a rare opportunity to engage with literature and delve into vital themes such as identity, culture, and addiction. Anticipation abounds for future events that foster similar enriching discussions. As the evening concluded, it was evident that Tahir and Sarwar had left a lasting impact on their audience, inspiring contemplation and appreciation for the power of literature to promote dialogue, compassion, and community.