Cast Spotlight: Soniah Kamal

by jana on April 11, 2017

Soniah Kamal is a Pushcart Prize nominated essayist and fiction writer. Her debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Award for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and is an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s work has appeared in The New York Times, TEDx , The Guardian, Chicago Quarterly Review, Buzzfeed, Catapult, The Missing Slate, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Huffington Post, Literary Hub, The Rumpus, The Normal School, ArtsATL and more. Her essays and short stories are included in The Best Asian Short Stories, award winning anthologies and have been short listed for the Sequestrum Editor’s Reprint Award, The Agnes Scott Festival Award, the Payton James Freeman Prize and more and are recommended reads by VELA and Longreads. Soniah is the recipient of the Susan B. Irene Award from St. Johns College and a Paul Bowles Fiction Fellowship from Georgia State University. Soniah was born in Pakistan, grew up in England and Saudi Arabia and lives in the U.S., New Mexico, Maryland, Virginia, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, California and currently Georgia.

Soniah Kamal

Tell us a little about yourself.

Five things about me you won’t find in my bio:

1) ‘Well behaved women rarely make history.’ They do cook a lot  though which is very nice for their family since family is least interested in history and more in what they are getting for lunch.

2) I was born dismature at 2 1/2 pounds. Dismature means carried full term but born scrawny and tiny. The doctor told my mother I was not going to survive the night. I did.

3) The best thing I ever did for myself was stop waiting to be given flowers and start buying them for myself. What’s that advert say? You’re worth it.

4) My favorite line of all time is from The Wizard of Oz and is ‘There’s no place like home’. On any given day, my outlook on life can change depending on how I interpret that ‘no’.

5) I have a part of my heart buried in Georgia meaning a child I lost to miscarriage. Well, not exactly buried. My son, Khyber, was a four month old fetus and his ashes are contained in an urn in the Stone Mountain Cemetery with other babies which did not make it.

What’s your favorite piece of writing you’ve ever hit publish on? 

I’m very proud of my short story ‘The Party Giver’ but I’d have to say that my favorite piece is my essay ‘The Reluctant Writer’. It’s about how I wasn’t allowed to pursue my original dream, gravitated towards writing, hated that I had, and how I finally came to terms with it.

The Party Giver

The Reluctant Writer

As a child, did you listen to your mother? When did you start realizing she may actually know what she’s talking about?

As the piece I’m reading at LTYM 2017 shows, when I was an adolescent my mother and I had quite an interesting relationship and I think, though I listened to her and she to me, neither she nor I were able to hear each other. These days we are much better at that! No one is an island, we all come from our own private histories, and then we parent from those private emotional places which, in turn, fashion our children who develop their own historical perspectives about who their parents are and, sometimes, the histories of parents and children clash but hopefully, more frequently, they come together in harmony.

If your mother is still living, do you listen to your mother now?

The last time I listened to her was a couple of months ago! I was taking my MFA comprehensive examinations (four hours, closed books, a sinkhole of memorization) and I hadn’t sat for exams in the last twenty years and her advice how she used to study for her medical exams was phenomenal. So yes, I do listen to her now. My mother lives in a different country and often she will call me just to listen to my voice. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is!

If you have children, what are some things you hope your children take from you, whether you think they’re listening or not?

Being kind. Defending those who are being bullied. Standing up for what is fair. Being able to say sorry, please and thank you. The ability to think critically about a book, or film, TV or anything no matter how entertaining it is because nothing should be a fluffy waste of time. Being able to whip up a decent a cup of milky cardamom infused chai. Did I mention being kind?

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