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June 7, 2017

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Sajidah K. Ali

Kate Hart
headshot of Sajidah K. Ali
Getting published can be a long slog. I was lucky to have friends beside me every step of the way, including today's Badass Lady, Sajidah Ali. She has an uncanny way of knowing exactly when someone needs a check in, a supportive message, or just a random silly tweet, and I couldn't be more thrilled to see all the buzz for her upcoming debut, Saints and Misfits, which comes out next week! (Be sure to enter her swag giveaway below!)


cover of SAINTS AND MISFITS by S. K. Ali
Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Sajidah: I’m the author of Saints and Misfits, a contemporary YA novel about a Muslim-American teen. Each part of that sentence, author, YA novel, Muslim-American teen, feels good to say. I’ve wanted to be an author since I was a child and actually got a degree in Creative Writing in my early 20’s to fulfill this desire. However, I didn’t settle into the dream right away because I chose to focus on family (I became a mom early, while finishing university) and on a career in education. In 2006, a friend brought up life-lists – she pulled out a tattered piece of paper that held hers from university days – and a group of us decided we were going to write our own. The list would be the dreams we envisioned, when we were young, for our lives; the things we still envisioned for our lives. (I’m a strong believer in the idea that it’s never too late to do something kind, fulfilling, hopeful, life/world-changing.)

So there it was on my life-list: become an author. I began blogging my intent and progress and threw myself into learning all I could about writing a book. It was an education – like getting another degree in Creative Writing. Besides working on the art and craft of writing, there’s a lot to learn about the publishing process and the industry itself.

So began the journey back to my dream. It helped that the life-list crew met a few times a year to review our progress in fulfilling our visions.

drawing of brown skinned girl in purple hijab and light blue floral dress holding a book, by S. K. Ali
Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)? 

Sajidah: I love art of all kinds. I can spend all day looking at art, reading about it, and, most of all, making it. Here’s a small sampling of my stuff: Maybe it’s due to this love of art that I storyboard for plot and even sketch characters when I’m stuck. When I say sketch, I mean stream-of-consciousness sketching, where the character blooms on paper, with me unsure of what pencil stroke is coming next. (Um, lol, maybe this actually called doodling?)

Visuals also inspire me when writing. I relied on them quite a bit to write Saints and Misfits. Because it served me so well, I’ve been using this method again for the novel I’m working on currently. So instead of reading to do my research, I engage in visual research. Like looking at photos, physically being in a setting I’m thinking of using (eyes open wide), or watching a documentary. Perhaps this has become my thing because I’m pretty adamant about staying away from reading when I’m in a writing season. Reading other books invariably interferes with the voice-flow I’ve immersed myself in. (When writing season is done, all I do is read! LOVE reading season!)

photo from one of Sajidah's hotel writing retreats
Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Sajidah: I’m not a good multitasker. I’m very single-task focused and I’ll do that single task with my all but life is not a single-task-a-day affair of course. This was a challenge because I used to struggle with this aspect of my personality and wonder why I couldn’t multi-task and BALANCE everything better. But then a wonderful someone taught me that often times the words “balance” and “multi-task” are used to disguise the expectation of women to be perfect in every sphere of our lives. And if you’re a busy person with a lot of going on, this could send you careening.

I’ve learned, only recently, that it’s okay to block long chunks of time (like writing retreats!) for what I want to focus on and that some things may not be daily activities. Like I will NO longer beat myself up for not writing every single day.

Sajidah and her sons
Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Sajidah: I went through a long period of time when I felt like the only talent I had was in trying to be a supermom. I was that mother who made cute smiley-face lunches with notes and who framed countless pieces of art my kids made. No time left for personal creative pursuits. I found a poem from that era called Frozen Tundra (lol) that described how I felt about my creativity. I felt like the writer in me had completely disappeared.

I bounced back by connecting with other creative-minded people. A support network – whether online or in-person – is so important to nurturing your creativity. It can be as simple as checking in with each other to see how projects are going or meeting up for weekly coffee dates or, the best, writing retreats. Talking shop, creative-shop, is integral for me and, haha, tundra-thawing.

Sajidah in pink hijab giving strong side eye
Kate: What's the best compliment you've ever gotten? 

Sajidah: Writing-wise, this compliment would be from my husband. All through the writing of my novel, whenever I’d discuss scenes, read bits of my writing or involve him in it, he’d be quiet or, worse, unengaged. Outwardly, I attributed this to the fact that he only reads science fiction or nonfiction but inwardly, I was crestfallen. Finally, he requested that I hand him my novel when it was DONE. I decided that this would be when it was published. And, so, five years later, I handed him the ARC of Saints and Misfits and he took one weekend and sat there with cups of hot drinks until he finished, closed the book with tears in his eyes and said, Wow, everything fitted together, nothing was superfluous and it’s just so, so, complete in the best way. He’s a project manager who’s into minimalism, efficiency and optimal outcome so this was a huge compliment.

drawing of girl in hijab with backpack and plaid skirt surrounded by art and writing supplies on Sajidah's writing desk
Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work? 

Sajidah: My feminism woke as a child when I read and heard about how Islam began. Really. I understood my religion to be a revolution to the status quo of women all the way back in the seventh century. The ideas about a woman keeping her own name, owning her own property, challenging edicts etc. coincided with the debate happening in other parts of the world on whether women had souls or not. Understanding this part of my heritage early resulted in my belief that the struggle for gender equity –  feminism – was an intrinsic part of my identity as a Muslim. I went on to read and learn more about this aspect of my faith. I also saw strong women within my own community – women in my extended family, women at the mosque – and this solidified my belief. That’s why I don’t hold back in addressing and challenging the situation of women all around the world, including Muslim countries, most of which do not follow Islam in regards to women’s rights.

Lightning round: Tell us what you’re…    

reading: My next to-read is Tash Hearts Tolstoy
watching: Abstract (a documentary series on Netflix about art and design)
listening to: Regina Spektor’s On the Radio
eating: Avocado toast, lol
doing: report cards, waaah
wearing: earth-toned hijabs (it’s a thing now)

Kate: Who are some other badass ladies we need to know & why? 

Sajidah: Linda Sarsour – one of the organizers of the Women’s March. A powerhouse of an activist, she exudes confidence, loud and vocal solidarity, and passion. But these qualities are combined with compassion and a deep connection with others. I’ve met Linda at events a few times and, in each instance, she’s been personable and kind.

Sajidah with her writing group
Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Sajidah: Seek solidarity through boosting each other’s voices. Listen to each other’s experiences with openness and examine the lenses through which we’ve been conditioned to see diversity. Feminism can look different so buy diverse girl-power stories to understand what the struggle is like for someone with an identity different from yours.

Enter to win one of FIVE Saints and Misfits book swag packs – open internationally!>br> a Rafflecopter giveaway

Find Sajidah K. Ali at:
website  //  twitter  //  goodreads

Buy Saints and Misfits:
Simon and Schuster  //  Amazon US  //  Amazon CA  //  Barnes & Noble  //  Book Depository  //  Indigo

Want more Badass Ladies? 
Check out more profiles, or follow and boost from any of these accounts:


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