helping words find direction

The Basics

I’m a writer, researcher and lifelong nomad. Born in Pakistan, I grew up moving around southern Africa and the Middle East but now, New York City is my home. Recently, I was excited to receive a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship in fiction, a Pushcart Prize nomination, and one essay and two short stories were listed as Notable by the Best American series in 2016. A few years ago, I graduated with an MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan, where I taught composition and creative writing to undergraduates. I also have degrees in marketing research and economics, and worked for a decade in social science data analysis and research for non-profit organizations. Now, I teach and coach other writers, and consult for the United Nations.

You can read my writing in Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review, Longreads, The Rumpus, and Bitch Magazine, among others (full publications list). I’m also managing editor at Laundry, a new literary magazine about fashion. In the past, I’ve served on the boards of the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective and DesiLit, worked as a contributing editor at Fiction Writers Review and Storyscape Journal. I’m currently working fiendishly to complete a novel set in Durban, South Africa, as well as a collection of essays on migration.

More about me — pull up a chair

I’ve always loved maps. Armed with push-pins, I’ve tried to track my family’s zigzag course as we’ve migrated, multiple times, across the world. Almost everyday, I’ve shut my eyes on a loud corner and imagined myself on the New York City subway map to orient myself. Maps have helped bring structure to what often felt like a chaotic life of arranging cardboard boxes, wandering aimless through airport lounges, and chameleon passports changing colors and allegiances.

I’m a writer and researcher. Demarcations between right and left brain skills make about as much sense to me as borders between countries. And yet, early on, I became fascinated with mapmaking as an analogy for constructing narrative: using fiction to map interpersonal boundaries. The lines drawn between our “imagined communities” are also the borderlands where our most powerful yearnings, our deepest conflicts, are enacted. For a time, it was comforting for me — someone with degrees in economics, market research and creative writing — to prefer the two-dimensional order of lines to the sprawling maze of my peripatetic experiences.

But as with everything in fiction, it’s more complicated than that. Borders between characters are just as imagined, and as limiting, as borders drawn between nations. I came across counter-mapping, a fascinating line of scholarship, which subverts traditional cartography to upend obsolete power structures. That feels powerfully true to what I’m trying to do in my own writing, and with my students, all the time. I guide narratives that cannot be bordered, lined or push-pinned. I break analytical writing from false confines to breathe it alive. I try to marry right and left brain forces. Let there be peace.


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