Join BookBrowse today and get access to free books, our twice monthly digital magazine, and more.

Ayad Akhtar Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Ayad Akhtar

Ayad Akhtar

How to pronounce Ayad Akhtar: i-yahd AHK-tar (first syllable rhymes with my)

An interview with Ayad Akhtar

Ayad Akhtar answers questions about American Dervish and explains how growing up as a Muslim in America influenced his writing.

Why did you choose to set American Dervish in 1980s Wisconsin?
Wallace Stevens writes beautifully of the process of creation as the fashioning of images with wood out of one's own forests, and stone out of one's own fields. I grew up in Wisconsin and wanted very much to draw on the textures of my childhood. Though the story is fiction, I wanted to imbue it with a sense of lived reality, a register of authenticity I could achieve only by drawing on my own youth. Also, I wanted to depict a time before the world had politicized being Muslim. Setting the novel in the 1980s allowed me to draw a picture of a community where much of the conflict engulfing the world today was already beginning to take shape.

How has your experience of growing up as Muslim-American affected your work?
Before writing American Dervish, I worked as a screenwriter and playwright, and most of my work has dealt with Muslim-American identity, the unique challenges of identifying oneself (or being identified by others) primarily by a religious faith and, in Islam's case, by a faith that has often seen itself (and been seen by others) as "opposed" to the West.

The bedrock question from which all my inspiration derives is: What does it mean to be both Muslim and Western? Obviously, there are as many answers to that question as there are Muslim-American lives to be explored. In short, lots of material to draw from!

What do you hope the reader will take away from the passages you include from the Quran?
Of course, so many of the characters in the book relate to the Quran, often in their own unique way. You could say the Quran is almost a character in the novel, but one whose face is always changing. First and foremost, I wanted to be true to the experience of someone coming to a book that they think has "the Answer." How much of that answer is on the page and how much of it projected there? At the end of the book, Hayat, the protagonist, remembers verses he had long forgotten, and these come to have new meaning. It's an instance that's true, I believe, of interpretation in general: As we grow, our understanding changes.

Can you talk about the other artists who have influenced your work?
Saul Bellow. I discovered The Adventures of Augie March and Seize the Day just out of high school, and reading those books had a lot of influence on my desire to become a writer. Bellow's forging of an American voice for an immigrant identity - primarily a religious/cultural identity, and less a national one - parallels not only my own experiences as an American, but my aspirations as an artist as well.

Mostly, though, I've been influenced by filmmakers, at least in my thinking about story: Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Eric Rohmer. The way I approach the movement of a story; scene structure; my reliance on dialogue and gesture; the focus on conveying meaning visually - all of this is the result of watching (and working in) movies. Ideally, I want the reader to feel fully immersed in the world of the story in the way that a good movie makes you feel fully immersed.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Books by this Author

Books by Ayad Akhtar at BookBrowse
Homeland Elegies jacket American Dervish jacket
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Read-Alikes

All the books below are recommended as read-alikes for Ayad Akhtar but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • Jason DeParle

    Jason DeParle

    Jason DeParle is a reporter for the New York Times and has written extensively about efforts to address poverty. His book, American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare was a New York Times ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Homeland Elegies

    Try:
    A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves
    by Jason DeParle

  • Roshi Fernando

    Roshi Fernando

    Roshi Fernando grew up in southeast London and received her Ph.D. in creative writing from Swansea University. She was a finalist for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award in 2011. She lives in the Cotswolds, ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    American Dervish

    Try:
    Homesick
    by Roshi Fernando

We recommend 11 similar authors


Non-members can see 2 results. Become a member
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Join our inner reading circle, go ad-free and get way more!

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Women and Children First
    Women and Children First
    by Alina Grabowski
    After Lucy Anderson falls to her death at a high school party, no one in Nashquitten, her gloomy, ...
  • Book Jacket: Henry Henry
    Henry Henry
    by Allen Bratton
    Allen Bratton's Henry Henry chronicles a year in the life of Hal Lancaster. Readers already ...
  • Book Jacket: The Last Murder at the End of the World
    The Last Murder at the End of the World
    by Stuart Turton
    The island is the only safe place left on Earth. Since a deadly fog overtook the planet, the ...
  • Book Jacket
    A Kind of Madness
    by Uche Okonkwo
    The word "madness," like many others that can be used to stigmatize mental illness — e.g., "...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
Look on the Bright Side
by Kristan Higgins
From the author of Pack Up the Moon comes a funny, romantic, and moving novel about life's unexpected rewards.
Book Jacket
The Pecan Children
by Quinn Connor
Two sisters deeply tied to their small Southern town fight to break free of the darkness swallowing the land whole.
Win This Book
Win Bright and Tender Dark

Bright and Tender Dark by Joanna Pearson

A beautifully written, wire-taut debut novel about a murder on a college campus and its aftermath twenty years later.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

A W in S C

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.