My reading at Rio Hondo College’s annual literary festival with an image of my father, Dr. Mohammad Sarwar, in the background; photo by Tom Callinan
“Thank you, miss,” a student said as I exited Rio Hondo College’s auditorium to walk toward my car. “Your story about borders makes me think of my dad. He crossed many times and nearly died because it was so cold and dangerous.”
“Where’s your dad from?”
“Mexico.” The student’s eyes widened. The answer was obvious, his body language suggested.
“I mean, where’s he really from?
“From near Jalisco, Mexico!” His shoulders dropped and smile widened.
We talked more, and I reiterated that the story of my parents’ migration from India to Pakistan as well as my own shift from Pakistan to the US was a different journey from the experience of migrants who crossed into the US from Mexico and Central America.
“Write down what your father tells you,” I said. “We need to know your father’s story—and yours.”
The young man and his friends nodded and thanked me again for the talk and reading that I offered on April 24 at Rio Hondo College’s Writes of SpringLiterary Festival, where student audience members asked questions about my writing process, Black Wings, my journey, and about borders, those that splinter North America, South Asia, and Palestine/Israel.
The literary festival reading was at the mid-point of my spring 2019 reading tour that started in late March in Portland, Oregon where the second edition of Black Wings was released at Ramzy Farouki’s Faro Studio and where I read with Ramzy as well as with Mohamed Asem and Corinne Manning. That same night, through the help of newfound friends Priya Kapoor and her partner, I managed to arrive at Portland State University in time to read with fellow writers from Macondo Writers Workshop. Because I was in Portland to present at the AWP conference, I reunited with friends from around the country including Lamia Karim, Maryam and Waqas Khwaja, Paula Manley, Emmy Perez, Natalia Treviño, Veliz Books editor Minerva Laveaga, Los Angeles-based writers, and many more.
In Seattle, thanks to Tasveer, its founder Rita Meher, and board member Alka Kurian, I read at Elliot Bay Books and responded to insightful questions by Alka Kurian. My Portland and Seattle readings and discussions were fabulous, as was the border crossing from Seattle into Canada with my friend, filmmaker Yunuen Perez Vertti, who is from Mexico City and is married to Aswinee who’s from Orissa, India. Their family resides in Vancouver, but my family knows them from Houston, Texas where we used to live, party, and work together.
Tonight, I’m looking forward to my reading at Los Angeles’ Skylight Books and conversing with writers Neela Banerjee and Alicia Vogl Saenz. In another week, I’ll fly to central Texas to read in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio. After that, I’ll take a break, a short one—before appearing at Pasadena LitFest and at Gatsby Books in Long Beach.
Many thanks to: Barbara Avouac for organizing a Black Wings‘ pre-launch and reading and Marta Rodriguez for helping at the reading with Caltech’s International Spouse Club (Pasadena, California); Ramzy Farouki for hosting Black Wings‘ book launch at Faro Studio, Michael Heald for introducing me to Ramzy, and Mohamed Asem and Corinne Manning for reading with me and participating in my book launch; Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo for inviting me to read with Women Who Submit at Nucleus Portland; Macondo Writers Workshop for including me in the publications celebration at Portland State University (Portland, Oregon); Rita Meher and Alka Kurian with Tasveer for organizing my reading in Seattle; Rick Simonson at Elliott Bay Books for creating creating space for my work (Seattle, Washington); Yunuen Perez Vertti for organizing my reading at Burnaby Neighborhood Center (Vancouver/Burnaby, Canada); Tom Callinan for inviting me to speak at Rio Hondo’s Writes of Spring literary festival (Whittier, California); and Minerva Laveaga Luna, Kristál Anuña, and Laura Cesaro Eglin with Veliz Books for publishing a second edition of Black Wings, organizing my signing at Veliz Books’ AWP booth, and doing all the marketing and work that goes with running an independent publishing house and launching a new publication.