How does an author determine whether she wants to write a novel in first or third person? For award-winning and New York Times bestselling author, Sajidah “S. K.” Ali, who mostly writes about Muslim protagonists, it’s about humanization, especially if the books are about identity. “What I find is that when I’m writing a character that’s not been seen often in publishing and on shelves… I choose first-person a lot just to know that there’s more immediacy to the main character’s mind-space,” the Saints and Misfits author shares with So Booking Cool. “I think that’s so important for marginalized characters just because there’s so little representation of our communities and just us, that maybe having a third-person perspective puts readers a little bit more out of understanding them; and I think it’s important that these characters get understood as who they actually are and not what you’ve heard about Muslims or what you’ve heard about different communities.”
Ali’s voice, characters, and literature overall is clearly resonating. Her range of work includes books for nearly all age-groups in children’s publishing from her first two YA novels, Saints and Misfits (which alone has earned more than 10 awards/distinctions); Love From A to Z, which was recently recognized by the TODAY show again, this time for the Read with Jenna book club; the picture book, The Proudest Blue, an instant New York Times bestseller with Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad, illustrated by Hatem Aly; and the middle grade anthologies, Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food & Love and this past May’s Once Upon An Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices, in which she co-edited with author and We Need Diverse Books co-founder, Aisha Saeed.
The former educator’s childhood was rooted in reading. While she nor her siblings had the latest trends in fashion, their father ensured that his children were surrounded by literature at home. Ali devoured the books at her school’s library as well as the one near the laundromat she frequented weekly with her mother and siblings.
“Even in times when it was hard for us financially and we had to pull our purse strings, I still didn’t consider buying a book to affect that,” she says. “Books were still like groceries for me in our house.” She would later study Creative Writing, but her dream of becoming an author took a detour, when “life happened.”
Check out Part 1 of the interview to learn more about Ali and the catalyst for time she pursued writing again; how her first manuscript taught her what not to do; how blogging led to ‘Janna’ of Saints and Misfits; literature tidbits such as “plot to voice,” and voice-driven and character-driven stories; whether she can read anything or only stuff she enjoys; some details on the middle grade novel she’s currently writing, and more! For more information, visit Ali’s official website.