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

Ayad Akhtar

Ayad Akhtar

How to pronounce Ayad Akhtar: AY-add AHK-tar

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" backstories
  • 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 $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Pianist from Syria
    The Pianist from Syria
    by Aeham Ahmad
    Ahmad and his PianoAeham Ahmad became famous as the face of Syrian suffering when a photo of him playing piano in the ...
  • Book Jacket: The Smiling Man
    The Smiling Man
    by Joseph Knox
    Joseph Knox's latest turns on a simple premise: an unidentified and unidentifiable murdered man is ...
  • Book Jacket: The Heavens
    The Heavens
    by Sandra Newman
    I've been a big fan of Sandra Newman's writing ever since reading her 2014 novel The Country of Ice ...
  • Book Jacket: Sugar Run
    Sugar Run
    by Mesha Maren
    Mesha Maren's debut novel is a plunge into the depths of the dark Southern gothic with pulsing and ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    American Princess
    by Stephanie Marie Thornton

    Rated 4.9 stars by BookBrowse members - one of the highest scores of all time!
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    A People's History of Heaven
    by Mathangi Subramanian

    A story of love and friendship, and fighting for the places we love.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
Girls Burn Brighter
by Shobha Rao

An extraordinary and heart-rending tale of two girls with all the odds against them.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Book Club Giveaway!
Win The Summer Country

Win up to 12 copies to share with friends or your book club!

A sweeping epic of lost love, lies, jealousy, and rebellion set in colonial Barbados.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

D T T! Full S A!

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

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.