Author Nawaaz Ahmed Discusses Religion, Politics, and Belonging in Final Semester Reading | Campus Events






Novelist Nawaaz Ahmed gives a reading and lecture on his debut novel “Radiant Fugitives” at Lindsey Young Auditorium at Hodges Library on April 18, 2022.




Author Nawaaz Ahmed visited the UT campus on Monday for a reading of his new book “Radiant Fugitives.” The reading was the author’s final reading of this semester hosted by the English department.

“Radiant Fugitives”, Ahmed’s debut novel, tells the story of three women from an Indian family who struggle to connect after years of separation. Their very different lives interconnect as they struggle for forgiveness and acceptance, all during a time of great change in the United States.

Emily Mack, the evening’s presenter, spoke about Ahmed’s background and the many awards he’s received since the release of Radiant Fugitives.

“It was named one of the best books of 2021 by Booklist and has appeared in the best summer books from Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly, Time magazine and many more,” Mack said.

Originally from Tamil Nadu, India, Ahmed has lived in the United States for several years. He first came to the country to pursue graduate studies at Cornell University, then found success on the San Francisco tech scene. Before making the decision to take time off to focus on writing, Ahmed worked at Yahoo as a computer scientist.

While working at Yahoo, Ahmed attempted to complete short stories, but felt distracted by his work and had trouble concentrating on his writing.

“I would write half pages, or two pages, but nothing was ever finished and I felt like I needed to take some time off because I felt like I was involved. in my IT career,” said Ahmed.

After leaving Yahoo, Ahmed completed his master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and went on to complete several artist residencies.

“Radiant Fugitives,” which took over 10 years to write, began in 2010 as his thesis for his creative writing degree. It was inspired by Ahmed’s own life as a queer Muslim in the United States, as well as a way to document America under the Obama administration.

“There were a few things going on in the United States that directly affected me as a queer Muslim. One thing was the Ground Zero Mosque protests, and the magnitude of Islamophobia was rising at that time,” Ahmed said.

The critically acclaimed novel was able to intricately depict the complicated life of an estranged family, all of whom struggle to find love with each other amid the judgment they feel of themselves, as well as from the outside world.

“It’s a novel very conscious of the current world in which it was introduced. It raises complicated questions about the usefulness of protest and dissent, the powers of fate and narrative,” Mack said.

“Radiant Fugitives” is available for purchase from several vendors such as Union Ave Books in downtown Knoxville, as well as Barnes and Noble.

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