A talk on Literature and the Question of Identity by Wajahat Ali & Shadab Hashmi Feb28


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A talk on Literature and the Question of Identity by Wajahat Ali & Shadab Hashmi

On Thursday, 21 February 2013, the Griswold History Society in collaboration with the Ewing Literary Society and English Club hosted a talk on ‘Literature and the Question of Identity.’

The speakers were Pakistani-American playwright Wajahat Ali and Pakistani-American Poet Shadab Zeest Hashmi. Speaking to a packed audience of students and faculty, Wajahat recounted his days before becoming a successful playwright and satirist. He mentioned that he used to be ‘mashallah’ (i.e. fat), shy, and never really good at anything. It was only at university that a professor pushed him to write a short play related to the experiences of Pakistani-Americans post 9/11.

Luckily the professor loved what Wajahat wrote and convinced him to proceed further in developing his career as a playwright. But as he came from a Pakistani family where becoming a doctor, engineer, lawyer or businessman were the only respectable professions, he first qualified as a lawyer and then proceeded to get his play on Broadway in New York. From raising money initially from friends and family (in return for good desi food), Wajahat ended up with a successful six week run on Broadway. He emphasized that while he was his own self, being Muslim and being Pakistani made him stand out and speak up. Wajahat advised students to focus on their dreams and try and attain them with hard work and dedication—just as this ‘mashallah’ boy did!

Shadab read beautifully from her poetry which expresses the concerns of a Pakistani-American, a woman, and a Muslim in the West. Her new book “Kohl and Chalk” is about her personal experience as a mother, a wife and a poet and she read a couple of poems from that book. She also read poems from her collection, “Baker of Tarifa,” which is set in Andalusia when Muslims, Christians and Jews cohabited the city peacefully.

The poems reverberated with the nostalgia of having a city where the three Abrahamic religions lived together and thrived. Shadab signified that writing poetry is an essentially a person journey. She also commented about being a mother and the challenges it poses in bringing up children in America as a Pakistani-American.

In the end Dr Waseem Anwar, Dean of Humanities, and Dr Yaqoob Khan Bangash, Chairperson, Department of History, thanked both speakers for giving a scintillating and thought-provoking talk.