with Farah Ali:
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Farah: I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid. I decided about five years ago to do it properly. My first reading influences were wide-ranging, from children’s magazines in Urdu, R. L. Stine, Carolyn Keene and all the Sweet Valley High books to Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen and D. H. Lawrence.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Farah: I can’t possibly name just one, but some of the writers who have been old influences are John Cheever, Grace Paley, and Ernest Hemingway. I feel Jenny Erpenbeck’s novels deeply. I love the work of short-story writers Ahsan Butt and Brian Evenson for what they do with the weird and the surreal. I count Mahmoud Darwish, Kaveh Akbar, Roger Waters, Radiohead, Portishead, all as my influences.
Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Have any travels away from home influence your work?
I grew up in Karachi, Pakistan. English was the main language at my school, and the library had all the classics, at the expense of giving space to books in Urdu. That’s probably where I first found Charles Dickens and Jane Austen etc. There was a used-books shop close to my grandmother’s house. She would take me there almost every time I would visit her, and I got more experimental with my reading there. For a while in my early teens I lived in Damascus, Syria. The first time I read fantasy was from my school library there; I loved Tamora Pierce. I’m not sure if that translates to being an influence now, but maybe on some level it does.
Q4: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far?
Farah: When I was writing “The Effect of Heat on Poor People” I really wanted to record, or pin down, the incident of a fatal heat wave in Karachi. Through the small details of the lives of the characters, I wanted to put to paper that terrible summer. Doing that felt meaningful to me. https://kenyonreview.org/kr-online-issue/2018-marapr/selections/farah-ali-342846/
Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Farah: I always knew I wanted to be a writer. Even if I’d ended up studying medicine or becoming an astronaut I would have found my way back to being a writer. Writing fiction is something I’ve always done, whether on paper or in my head.
Q6: Favorite activities to relax?
Farah: I like to run, and hang out with my kids, and watch a lot of TV.
Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
Farah: My short-story collection, “People Want to Live”, comes out in October 2021. I’ve been very lucky to have McSweeney’s as my publisher. The preorder link is https://store.mcsweeneys.net/products/people-want-to-live. We’re putting together some events for the fall in the US and I’m really looking forward to those.
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?
Farah: I love this excerpt from “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye:
“Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth”
Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?
Farah: The few exceptionally kind people who have helped me on a personal level are also those who have indirectly helped most with the writing.