|An author, columnist, playwright and short film director, Sharbari Zohra Ahmed is an inspiration for aspiring women writers of Bangladesh. Born in Dhaka, she spent her childhood travelling to different parts of the world, “I was lucky,” says Ahmed, “Though at the time I lamented it. Like most children, routine and normalcy mattered to me. I hated being the new kid all the time, but my Bedouin childhood ended up fuelling my creativity and observational powers.”Ahmed received an MA in creative writing from New York University. The central themes of her fictions are the lives of minorities and their struggles. One of her most popular works is ‘Raisins Not Virgins,’ the story of a spirited young American-Muslim woman, struggling to find herself. This story was first written as a play by Ahmed in 2003, which she herself produced and starred in. It was later adapted as a screenplay and selected for the Tribeca All Access programme at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2008.When asked where she gets her inspiration, she says, “Inspiration is everywhere. For instance at this very moment I’m sitting in a bar in historic Charleston, South Carolina, where the civil war began. This afternoon I visited a plantation where slaves from Angola lived and died. Spanish moss hung off the branches of 200 year Oldham trees,” she describes, “It was Gone With the Wind. I paid 20 bucks and got some history. But it made me muse and think and imagine. The south in the US is a haunted place. Inspiration, as I said, is everywhere- always available.”
Ahmed’s fiction has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Caravan Magazine, Catamaran, and the Asian Pacific American Journal. Her short fiction was published in the anthologies The New Anthem: A Subcontinent in its Own Words, (Tranquebar, 2009) and Lifelines (Zubaan, 2012). Her first book of short stories, ‘The Ocean of Mrs Nagai’ was launched at the Hay Festival Dhaka in 2013.
“I started writing the moment I could,” says Ahmed, “I love and am critical of all my work,” she says, “I could tell you what’s my least favourite, but I shan’t!” According to Ahmed, the most difficult aspect of writing is getting started. Her travels she says have had a great impact on her writing, “Ethiopia, Africa, was influential for me. I lived there during my formative years.” Her story ‘Pepsi,’ is infact about a little girl Zara, the daughter of a Bangladeshi diplomat in Ethiopia, trying desperately to fit in with her peers. When asked if any of her stories come from personal experience, the author says, “It’s personal always. Otherwise it would not be authentic. That does not mean however that it is always autobiographical.”
Ahmed is currently teaching English Composition at Norwalk Community College in Norwalk, Connecticut. “I am also working on my novel ‘Yasmine,’ she says. “My future career plans involve being independently wealthy like the sultan of Brunei,” she smiles.
The Ocean of Mrs. Nagai (2013)
Raisins Not Virgins