Visiting Writers: Fatimah Asghar
As the semester enters full swing (and everyone recovers from Saturday night’s literary sugar coma) we’ve all got another wonderful event to look forward to, our first Visiting Writers event featuring Fatimah Asghar.
Asghar is a nationally touring poet, performer, educator, and writer. Her first full-length collection, If They Come For Us, examines violence and the inheritance of sadness. Asghar is the writer and co-creator of “Brown Girls,” an Emmy-Nominated series about friendships between women of color. In 2017 she was awarded the Ruth Lily and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation and was featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. Her work has also appeared in Time, Teen Vogue, and the Huffington Post.
If you have not read Asghar’s work before, you may want to start with the book’s title poem, “If They Come For Us,”(which full disclosure: I have had on my wall since last summer). You might turn next to “Kal,” which was first published as “Kul” in The Common and describes the convergence of past and future in a single word. It begins like this:
Allah, you gave us a language
where yesterday & tomorrow
are the same word. Kal.
A spell cast with the entire
mouth. Back of the throat
to teeth. Tomorrow means I might
have her forever. Yesterday means
I say goodbye, again.
Kal means they are the same.
Asghar also plays with form throughout this collection, making exhilarating and surprising use of the page. “How We Left” takes the form of a film treatment; “From” is a chart. The stanzas in “Oil” expand and contract across the page, once even hanging upside down. “Script for Child Services” is a floor plan, “Partition: August 15th, 1947” an ad-lib. “Microaggression Bingo” is a bingo board and “Map Home” is a crossword puzzle. These are poems that challenge our own perception of the ways we consume and interact with text on the page. The collection also plays with a number of traditional poetic forms, like the ghazal (“WWE”) and the sonnet crown (“A Starless Sky is a Joy Too”)*.
As an artist and a thinker, Asghar is multifaceted in other genre-defying ways; her TV show, Brown Girls, which explores female friendship, is under development with HBO. Asghar also engages in the ongoing philosophical and ethical conversations about the crucial ways in which government policy fails communities of color. Earlier this year, she spoke at Georgetown University’s Color of Surveillance conference, which studies the “intersection of religion, surveillance, and race,” about her experience as a Muslim after September 11, 2001.
Asghar is part of the Dark Noise Collective, a group of poets comprising Franny Choi, Nate Marshall, Aaron Samuels, Danez Smith, and Jamila Woods. If you’d like to learn more about Asghar ahead of the reading, you can listen to an episode of the Poetry Foundation’s VS podcast featuring her in conversation with fellow Dark Noise poets Franny Choi and Danez Smith.
Join us this Wednesday, September 19, in Abramson Family Founders Room at the School of International Service at 8:00 PM for a public reading and conversation with Fatimah Asghar. If They Come For Us will be for sale at the reading and we’ll ask her to sign copies after the event.
Yohanca Delgado is editor-in-chief at Café MFA and a third-year candidate in American University’s Creative Writing MFA program.
*Thank you to the marvelous and brilliant Sarah Beasley, for joining my fangirling about this book and helping me to identify the forms.