Interview by the Young Adulting Editors
Sabina Khan writes about Muslim teens who straddle cultures. She was born in Germany, spent her teens in Bangladesh, and lived in Macao, Illinois, and Texas before settling down in British Columbia with her husband, two daughters, and the best puppy in the world. Visit her online at sabina-khan.com.
Photo credit: Tanya Kuriyedath
Both of your books, The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali (2019), and Zara Hossain is Here (2021), explore teens on the precipice of entering adulthood who face some of the worst social barriers to acceptance, including homophobia and racism, sometimes coming from inside their own families, and sometimes coming from their social circles. Can you tell us about your process of writing these books?
Both these stories are inspired by my own experiences of dealing with racism, Islamophobia, and discrimination for most of my life. I wanted to tell these stories and create characters that fight back against prejudice of all kinds in a way I wish I could have done when I was younger. I wanted to empower brown teens in a way I never felt because there weren’t any characters that looked like me in the books I read growing up.
As far as process is concerned, I usually start with an experience that affected me in a fundamental way and I try to relate that to something that marginalized teens are dealing with today. Then I think of the kinds of stories I wished I had growing up, and that’s what I try to create. I fill them with memories of family, friends, food, and celebrations from my years of growing up in Bangladesh and living in other parts of the world. I want readers who don’t usually see their lives on the page to find my stories and feel seen.
How do you think the publishing industry increases #ownvoices representation in young adult books?
Even though we’re seeing more and more books by marginalized authors on bookshelves today, we only have to refer to the CCBC’s Diversity Statistics to see how far behind the industry still is as far as true representation for all readers is concerned. Until there are a multitude of books being published that offer representation for all readers, there will always be those who don’t see themselves reflected in the stories they read.
If you could pick a book that has influenced you most in your writing career, what would it be?
I am a big fan of the works of Rohinton Mistry and Shyam Selvadurai, as well as Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Theirs’ were some of the first books I read where the characters looked like me, and they were the reason I held on to my dream of one day becoming a writer.
What advice do you have to aspiring children’s writers in the BIPOC community?
Don’t give up even when it feels like there’s no place for your stories. There is. And when you finally put them out there, they will reach the readers who need them the most. Always believe that your stories are important and your voice is needed. Surround yourself with other BIPOC writers and you will find support, encouragement, and friendship.
With the recent release of your newest book, Zara Hossain is Here, is it too soon to ask what you are working on next? (If not, we’d love to know!)
Sadly, I can’t share much, but I can say that my next book will also be a YA contemporary fiction novel that plays with time and point of view.
Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions!
Our reviews of Sabina Khan’s books: