I am Sehba Sarwar—

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

Sehba Sarwar interviewing punk rock artist and writer 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 Callaloo, Creative Time Reports, ASIA: Magazine of Asian Literature, New York Times and elsewhere. A second edition of my novel, Black Wings (Veliz Books), was released in the US in 2019, and I also create site-specific installations such as On Belonging, through which I explore my family’s roots and migration pattern while engaging with the community through 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, that I directed for 16 years before moving to Los Angeles. I’ve received multiple awards including the City of Los Angeles’s Independent Master Artist Project grant (2023-24), the City of Pasadena’s Independent Artist grant (2019), Mid-America Arts Alliance’s Artistic Innovations grant (2015), and my papers are archived at the University of Houston. I currently serve as Altadena’s Co-Poet Laureate.

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 relocating to Los Angeles, California. From my new base, I teach, write, create art, and offer talks.

Updates

May 2024

Reading and panel for LitFest in the Dena: "Embodied Landscapes: Water, Wildlife, and the Geographies that Shape Us" with Erica Ayon, Olga García Echeverría, Jamie Asaye FitzGerald, Alicia Vogl Saenz, Altadena, CA

February 2024

AWP Panel: "Decolonizing American Literature" with Gemini Wahhaj, Namrata Poddar, Oindrila Mukherjee, Kansas City Convention Center, Kansas City, MO

Awards & Achievements

Selected to serve as Altadena Co-Poet alongside Lester Graves Lennon, Altadena Library, Altadena, CA; 2024-26

Awarded City of Los Angeles Independent Master Artist Project (COLA-IMAP) grant through Los Angeles’s Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) to work on novel-in-progress; 2023-24

Collaborated with Pasadena Educational Foundation 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 by Pasadena Arts & Culture Commission and the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs to develop a nonfiction manuscript; 2019-20

Awarded Mid-America Arts Alliance Artistic Innovations grant to create a multidisciplinary production, What Is Home?, Houston, Texas; 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.

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

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