I am Sehba Sarwar—

a transnational writer, workshop leader, artist and community activist tackling gender, displacement and border issues.

Sehba Sarwar interviewing rock star Patti Smith on KPFT Pacifica Radio (2010); photo by Marcell Murphy

I have been writing and organizing in the community for more than twenty-five years, and have taught high school, university, and community courses, given talks and offered readings. Please contact me if you're interested in bringing me to your campus or community!

My work tackles immigration and border issues and has appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Creative Time Reports, ASIA: Magazine of Asian Literature and elsewhere. A second edition of my novel, Black Wings (Veliz Books, 2019), was released in the US for the first time, and I have been on tour. I also offer a multidisciplinary project, On Belonging, through which I explore my family’s roots and migration pattern while engaging with the community through site-specific installations and workshops. In 2000, while living in Houston, I founded Voices Breaking Boundaries (VBB), an alternative arts organization that tackled social justice issues at a local and global level.

VISIT BLACK WINGS | ON BELONGING |  VBBARTS.ORG 

I have leadership training and have served on the board of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, was scholar-in-residence at Rice University’s Center for Women, Gender and Sexuality. Over the years, I have participated in panels with the Ford Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Texas Commission on the Arts and more.

A member of Macondo Writers Workshop and American Leadership Forum, I also co-hosted a weekly show at Houston’s Pacifica Radio Station KPFT 90.1 FM, where I interviewed Houston-based artists as well as international celebrities including Patti Smith.

Sehba Sarwar Activist Writer
Materials from my blog and my What Is Home? project that were exhibited at Houston's central library and are currently stored in my archives at the University of Houston

I was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan and lived and worked in Houston for several decades before recently relocating to Los Angeles, California with my Chicano husband and teenage daughter. From my new base, I teach, write, create art, and offer talks.

UPDATES

Ongoing

Release of second edition of novel Black Wings (Veliz Books, 2019) and 2019-20 book tour in cities including Houston, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Sacramento, San Francisco, Vancouver, and more; click below to view cities and dates

March 2021

Upcoming virtual spring 2021 course at UCLA Extension's Writers' Program, "Storytelling for Social Justice," Los Angeles, CA

January 2021

Curated and read at "South Asian Writers Resist" for Beyond Baroque, Venice, CA

December 2020

Generated an IGTV conversation, "Memory versus Truth," with artist Ali Zaidi

September 2020

Participated in a virtual reading, "Pasajes/Passages," along with other writers for Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena, CA

October 2020

Participated in a virtual poetry marathon, "¡Ya Basta!: Futures Without Walls / Enough! Futuros Sin Muros," for Poets Against Walls, Rio-Grande Valley, TX

June 2020

Participated in a virtual reading, "YOU DOWN FOR THE CAUSE OR WHAT? Writers of color discuss allyship," with fellow writers for BookSwell and Los Angeles Public Library-Exposition Park, Los Angeles, CA

AWARDS & ACHIEVEMENTS

Collaborated with Pasadena Unified School District and received a California Humanities Quick Grant to lead a workshop and public event with immigrant, refugee, and undocumented students, Pasadena, California; 2020-21

Awarded 2019-20 Individual Artist Grant to complete my memoir, On Belonging, by Pasadena Arts & Culture Commission and the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs; 2019-20

Awarded Mid-America Arts Alliance Artistic Innovations grant for my project What Is Home? project, Kansas City, USA; 2014-2015

Awarded Mount Holyoke College Alumnae 1905 Fellowship  to conduct research for my novel, Island; 2014-2015

Served as Artist-in-Residence at the Mitchell Center for the Arts, University of Houston, Houston, USA; 2012-2014

Accepted into the American Leadership Forum-Houston/Gulf Coast Chapter, Houston, USA; April 2013

Accepted into Texas Commission on the Arts’ Traveling Artist Roster, Austin, TX; 2010-2016

Accepted into the National Leadership Institute for the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC), San Francisco, USA; May 2012

Co-designed co-performed in Voices Breaking Boundaries’ art car Revolution and awarded first prize in the Free Speech Category at the 2011 Houston Art Car Parade, Houston, USA; May 2011

Awarded five artist grants to write and create art through the Houston Arts Alliance, Houston, TX; 1996-2008.

Awarded membership to Macondo Writers’ Workshop, San Antonio, USA; May 2009

Honored by Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi, Pakistan; Jan 2009

Honored by Houston’s First Lady Andrea White at We Are All Neighbors luncheon, Houston, USA; Nov 2008

Featured Poet on Border Senses, El Paso, USA; June 2007

Honoree for community service and writing at Living Smart’s Annual conference, Channel 8, Houston PBS, Houston, USA; Feb 2007

Recipient of Houston Arts Alliance’s Creative Artist Award for excellence as an artist, Houston, USA; Jan 2007

In 2014, Kairn Klieman PhD, Associate Professor at the University of Houston, taught a graduate public history course in which she and her graduate students researched the history of Voices Breaking Boundaries (VBB), as an example of a social justice organization whose work is intertwined with local and global issues.

Klieman’s students interviewed me as well as Voices Breaking Boundaries’ board, participating artists, and community members. Based on research material that Klieman’s students gathered, the University of Houston’s Friends of Women’s Studies acknowledged the impact of my work by creating permanent ongoing archives of my writings and VBB’s history in its Special Collections. The archives feature my artistic career and VBB’s extensive, multi-sensory history, and were made available to the public in fall 2016.

Sarwar’s voice continues to ring out clear and true, breaking boundaries no matter what format she chooses to express herself in.

—Bina Shah, Sampsonia Way, September, 2014

CONTACT

I am an author and speaker, an artist, and a community and cultural activist.

If I can use my talents and passions to inspire you or your network to push boundaries and become involved in our communities, please connect with me. I offer a range of services including: readings, workshops, courses, or multidisciplinary performances/installations. I look forward to hearing from you!

Sehba Sarwar Art Car
Front hood of my art car, Digital Meets Pakistani Truck Art, featuring buraq sticker images from Karachi; photo by Burnell McCray