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June 2, 2015

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Sabaa Tahir

Kate Hart

I first connected with Sabaa Tahir when she tweeted a link to her "baa mixes." After I told her they were helping me get through a particularly nasty bout of writer's block, she kindly alerted me to the next one she posted. Though she was already on my short list when this series started, her post "That Time My Dad Was Arrested For No Reason" just further confirmed her badassery. I couldn't have been happier to watch her debut novel, An Ember in the Ashes, hit the New York Times bestseller list last month, followed quickly by the announcement of a sequel -- and I couldn't be happier to feature her profile here.


Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) led you there?

Sabaa: I'm a writer of Young Adult fantasy. My debut novel, AN EMBER IN THE ASHES, [released] on April 28 from Penguin/Razorbill. Before writing YA, I was an editor at The Washington Post. But I've loved writing and telling stories since I was a little girl.

Kate: When and how did you decide to commit to your career?

Sabaa: I decided to become a writer in 2009, after having my first child and leaving my job as an editor. I'd been working on EMBER for two years before that, but I hadn't fully committed to it. Once I quit my job, I knew I had to buckle down and really get to work on the book.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young
Badass (with her older brothers)
Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)?

Sabaa: Writing is pretty much it. But music plays a big role in my writing process. I make long playlists for my works-in-progress, and I'll often listen to a song dozens of times while writing a particular scene. I'm not a musician by any stretch. Just someone who appreciates music and is always listening.

Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Sabaa: Right now, balancing all my obligations! It requires a lot of time management, something I got used to in college (when I worked two jobs while attending school). I'm having to go waaay back and remember all the tricks I employed to make sure I finished my work.

The Diversity Panel at ALA Midwinter
Kate: How do you stay inspired? Productive?

Sabaa: I inspire myself with books and music. When I'm feeling bad about my writing, I usually read an author I love and that gets me going again. As for being productive-that's more of a struggle. My biggest distraction these days is social media, so generally, when I shut off wireless, I'm far more productive!

Kate: How do you deal with negativity?

Sabaa: I do something positive. If someone is horrible to me, I try to do something cool for someone else. It is strangely empowering. And if the negativity is coming from within me, I usually give myself 24 hours to wallow and then I make myself move on.

Sabaa with "another badass,
my amazing publicist Shanta Newlin
of Penguin, at ALA Midwinter"
Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Sabaa: In 2012, I was ready to give up on AN EMBER IN THE ASHES. I'd been working on it for 5 years and it just wasn't coming together. I'd recently had someone read it, someone whose opinion I respected, and she pointed out a lot of major flaws. I couldn't imagine going through another revision. But after staying away from the manuscript for a few weeks, I decided that I couldn't bring myself to throw those 5 years of work away. So I pushed past the fear and frustration and failure and rewrote like a possessed fiend for a year. A few weeks after I finished, I found agent and then sold the book.

Kate: What would your superhero costume look like? 

Sabaa: Probably it would be all black with lots of silver and possibly my red Doc Martens. So basically, I wear my superhero costume every day.

Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Sabaa: We need to be kind to each other. We need to give each other the benefit of the doubt. And most of all, we need to support each other. How does it hurt you to support another woman? It doesn't-it makes you stronger, it empowers the person you support, and it sets a great example for anyone who looks up to you.

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Sabaa: Never give up in your search for badassery. You will have weak moments and sad moments and tough moments. That's all part of being a badass. Badassery comes in many forms. My oldest friend is a badass for doing an amazing job raising her four children. My best friend is a badass for traveling the globe to give microloans to people who need it. Badassery doesn't just mean being like Katniss Everdeen (though of course, that's awesome too.) Sometimes it just means surviving from one day to the next, or doing a good thing for someone else, or doing something kind for yourself.


Sabaa Tahir grew up in California's Mojave Desert at her family's eighteen-room motel. There, she spent her time devouring fantasy novels, raiding her brother's comic book stash, and playing guitar badly. She began writing An Ember in the Ashes while working nights as a newspaper editor. She likes thunderous indie rock, garish socks, and all things nerd. Sabaa currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.

Learn more about Sabaa at her website,, or on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest.

Watch the Badass Ladies You Should Know website for Sabaa's personal list of badass ladies YOU should know!


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