Fatimah Asghar Featured at MARS Reading

by RIKKILYNN SHIELDS, Social Media Editor

Each year, the Manhattan College English Department’s own Dr. Adam Koehler and Dr. Dominika Wrozynski put together the Major Author Reading Series, otherwise known as MARS.

Throughout the years, there have been a variety of different authors and poets visiting campus, holding readings of their work in Hayden 100, answering questions from students and professors and selling their work through the school’s bookstore.

Fatimah Asghar, a Pakistani-Kashmiri-American poet, screenwriter, performer and educator kicked off the Major Author Reading Series. Asghar is not only a poet, but also the co-creator and writer for the Emmy-nominated webseries Brown Girls, a series that puts the spotlight on friendships between women of color.

Along with her Emmy-nominated webseries, Asghar’s work has also appeared in POETRY Magazine, PBS, Teen Vogue, BuzzFeed Reader, The Huffington Post, The Offing, Academy of American Poets and a variety of other well-known publications.

Asghar admits to have entered her undergraduate studies with a desire to work for the United Nations, majoring in International Studies. However, she soon realized that this wasn’t what would make her happy. She admits to never having taken a creative writing or screenwriting course in college, but for some reason, writing was always something she enjoyed and something at which she excelled.

“I have one life and I want to be happy. I don’t want to do something that makes me unhappy. And writing makes me happy,” Asghar said.

Asghar read from her book of poems, If They Come for Us. The poems she read gave the audience a taste of her style, which she specified is mainly inspired by her childhood, her experiences growing up in America and how she grapples with the way she thought of herself when she was young compared to now.

During her reading, Asghar mentioned how she is fascinated, when looking back at her childhood, by the way that “childhood logic” would take over. Some of the poems she read from If They Come for Us, such as “Old Country,” “Haram” and “How’d Your Parents Die Again?” reflect on these thoughts.

A few of her other poems, such as “Partition,” “When the Orders Came” and “100 Days” reflect on both the current political climate and a variety of other historical events that have impacted Asghar’s life in some way.

While Asghar does incorporate a wide variety of themes and genres into her poetry, writing doesn’t always come as easy for her as it seems. As for challenges, Asghar admits that as a writer, her biggest challenge is time.

“The days get filled with so many things that it can be hard to carve out time for yourself,” Asghar said. “Creative writing is rejection after rejection. Sometimes though, a “no” is a “not yet. Writing is writing. Writing is always writing. If you can study a craft, you are artist.”

Fatima Asghar, author of “If They Come for Us,” opened Manhattan College’s Major Author Reading Sereis. RACHEL ROCA / COURTESY

Asghar admits that some poems that she has written don’t end up being looked at for months on end. As a writer, Asghar confessed that it’s important to not only read and write other works, but to also leave your own work alone sometimes, or have friends read it over if you’re having a hard time.

“Sometimes it’s better with distance. Leave things for a long time so the results feel organic,” Asghar said.

What stood out to most students at the MARS reading was Asghar’s distinct voice, which she confessed she didn’t discover easily or quickly.

“It takes forever to find your voice. Make a book you’d be proud to stand by for years and years,” Asghar said.

The students at the MARS reading were inspired by Asghar’s advice and the words she spoke while reading her poetry.

“Fatimah beautifully mixed the personal with the political to create a poetic experience that, when read aloud, creates a powerful hold on the listener which makes it hard to not pay attention. I really loved how simple her poetic voice is, but the topics and words she uses inspires inspiration in aspiring writers,” said senior English major David Valentin.

Sophomore Ian Fenton, who also attended, shared his thoughts as well.

“I thought she spoke to the Muslim-American experience in a way that portrayed how difficult it can be growing up in that insular familial setting within the American cultural framework. Her poetry is powerful but not beyond understanding for someone who is pretty unfamiliar with poetry in general (me). She was great and I highly recommend her work for anyone who 1.) feels marginalized and isolated, and 2.) wants to engage with poetry that isn’t pretentious or too esoteric, especially casual readers who want to get more serious,” Fenton said.

The next Major Author Reading Series will be held on Oct. 11 at 6:30 p.m. with critically acclaimed, bestselling author Julianna Baggott. The location on campus has yet to be determined.