by LAUREN CODLING
AN AWARD-WINNING poet has revealed the challenges which come with sharing her personal stories within her art form, as she prepares to perform in the UK next Thursday (21).
Fatimah Asghar is a poet, performer and screenwriter. Her debut poetry collection, If They Come For Us, focuses on the impact that the 1947 partition of the subcontinent had on her family, and her experiences of living in modern-day America as a “queer Muslim woman of Pakistani-Kashmiri heritage”.
The 29-year-old regularly uses her own stories for her art, but admitted she sometimes questions her choices.
“Will my family be mad? Am I doing justice to the people who I am writing about? What does it mean to have people know these things about me?” she said, talking about some of the uncertainties she has experienced.
Occasionally, her writing is so intimate that many people who don’t know her feel entitled to her personal life and space, Asghar explained. And although she understands there is a certain familiarity within her writing, and she is grateful for the connection, she is learning to set better boundaries.
“[I’m doing this so] I don’t get trampled by the world around me and still can stay soft enough to write what I need to,” she told Eastern Eye.
Next week, Asghar will perform her debut collection for the first time in London. She is excited to read in the UK, and is hoping that audiences will relate to her work. “So much of my work is about south Asianness in diaspora, so I feel as though folks in Britain will be able to connect to that,” she said.
Born in New York City, Asghar lost both her parents at an early age. She had previously said that writing helped her to “build a home” and feel less lonely, so Asghar used the art as an outlet.
However, she revealed that she kept her work secret.
“Mostly it was stuff that I kept to myself and then threw away so no one could read it,” she recalled.
As she grew older, Asghar saw someone perform the spoken word for the first time. She was moved by how they could fully embody their own story.
“So much of my writing had been a thing I did in secret, something I ran from,” she said.
“And here were people who were so willing to own their stories that they stood on stage and allowed the audience into their vulnerability.”
When she went to college, Asghar met a friend who asked her to attend a poetry group with her. It was the beginning of a new world for the critically acclaimed writer.
Since then, she has released a variety of work which has been published in Teen Vogue and Huffington Post. She is also the co-creator and writer of Brown Girls, an Emmy-nominated web series on the friendships between women of colour.
Among an assortment of themes, Asghar’s writing covers borders, immigration and identity issues.
When asked why, now more than ever, it was important for audiences to hear these stories, Asghar stressed that it is not a case of the topic being particularly timely. She believes America has always had a terrible relationship to borders, to history and to the people that it erases and exploits.
“These stories are important because they have always been important,” she said.
“Because our sense of security is based in the very faulty definitions of nation states, which can, and have, shifted at any moment.”
Now based between Chicago and Los Angeles, Asghar continues to showcase her work to audiences across the US. Whenever she performs, the poet is pleased by the number of ethnic women who come to see her shows.
“It means a lot to me when I go to shows in the middle of nowhere and they are consistently packed with young women of colour,” she said.
When her editor, Nicole Counts, came to Asghar’s book release in Chicago, she commented on how it was one of the youngest literary spaces she had ever been to, and the audience was full of “queer people of colour”.
“I think that’s the thing – folks will gravitate to things they feel centered in,” Asghar said.
“And it means so much to me when I see people come out to these events, show up for me and for the book. I can’t express how grateful I feel.”
Fatimah Asghar performs If They Come For Us next Thursday (21) at Hall Two, Kings Place, in London