Ernest Dempsey — Shaila Abdullah’s novel Saffron Dreams (Modern History Press, 2009) recently won the Patras Bukhari Award for English Language work of literature from Pakistan. Shaila’s interview was featured in the Journal of Humanitarian Affairs last year. She joins us again briefly for her thoughts on the fresh recognition of her work and the feedback she has received so far about the novel.
Ernest: Shaila, congratulations on the recognition in Pakistan! How do you feel about the achievement?
Shaila: Thank you. It is definitely humbling to be awarded the Patras Bukhari Award for English Language and find myself among renowned Pakistani-English writers such as Bapsi Sidhwa, Kamila Shamsie and Nadeem Aslam. In a way Pakistan Academy of Letters is performing a very significant role in promoting the books of new and emerging writers and assessing the quality of work coming from different parts of the world where many Pakistanis now reside. Lately, as we know there has been a rising interest in Pakistani literature in the West, especially Pakistani Writing in English (PWE) or Pakistani Anglophone Writing (PAW). It is a great opportunity to tell our side of the story.
Ernest: Has Saffron Dreams also won any other awards in US or abroad?
Shaila: Saffron Dreams has had quite a few wins, such as Golden Quill Award, Written Art Award, Reader Views Literary Award, as well as a grant from Hobson Foundation. Many academic institutions have adopted Saffron Dreams as a course study or recommended reading, including the University of California Los Angeles, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Indiana University, Boston University, and George Washington University. Saffron Dreams has had an impressive run so far and it continues to amaze me what people take away from it and how diverse their reactions are to the book at times.
Ernest: What kind of feedback did you receive from readers of Saffron Dreams, particularly Pakistani-Muslim women living in the US?
Shaila: Saffron Dreams has a wide-range of audience from readers to students. The subject matter resonates with many because of its challenging context. The book has been widely cited and used by university professors and students as study for papers, talks and presentations. A particularly interesting dissertation paper I saw recently was written by a Northern Illinois University student titled, “Like ‘hair sneaking from beneath the scarf:’ Contemporary immigrant Muslim women novelists speak of gender, immigration, and Islam.” I invite you to read that paper for its fascinating depiction of the central themes and symbolism in Saffron Dreams.
Ordinary readers embraced the book because of its deep personal narrative against the backdrop of the most significant point in American history. It was the day that jilted the entire nation and we were all affected in some ways. Saffron Dreams addresses many of the misconceptions that were birthed that day. Several Pakistani-Muslim women who read the work shared that they felt a special connection with the book because it seemed to speak for them and attempted to set the record straight.
Ernest: Would you like to get the book translated in Urdu for the large Urdu-speaking population of Pakistan?
Shaila: Actually that is a great idea. Yes, given the opportunity, I would love to translate this book for the wider Urdu-speaking population of Pakistan.
Ernest: You are also an accomplished designer. Do these two talents – writing and designing – remain mutually insulated in your mind?
Shaila: I have never found my two creative interests––writing and design––to be in conflict with one another. If anything, they complement one another. There have been many instances where I meshed the two, for instance when I designed the cover of both of my books. I also have clients who request both writing and design services for their website or newsletters. In my design business, I have more writer/author type clients. Being an author myself, it is very intuitive for me to understand a writer’s work, personality, and style and portray it on their website or book cover.
Ernest: Is there any current writing project you are working on, or just carrying along in memory for near future?
Shaila: There are several projects that are brewing in my head at the moment from fiction, nonfiction to children’s book; none that I have pinned down at the moment. My design business keeps me pretty busy. But stay tuned and visit my website at www.ShailaAbdullah.com periodically. There may be a surprise there someday!
Ernest: Thank you Shaila! I wish you continued success in the writing journey and life.
Visit www.ModernHistoryPress.com to see more titles from the publisher of Saffron Dreams.