Soniah Kamal

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'Islam is not Pakistan's religion; Marriage is'

Monday, September 3, 2012

Soniah Kamal and Live to Tell and Madonna and Me

Today's my turn for my 'Madonna and Me' talk at the Decatur Book Festival which means I'll be interviewing myself. (It's the first time I'm doing something like this-- bit weird) My essay 'Through the Wilderness' is about how Madonna informed and influenced my strict Muslim upbringing in Saudi Arabia as well as made a certain four letter word okay for me. My favorite bit from my essay 'We were three excited girls perched on the edge of a green velvet sofa, waiting for the cassette to rewind, not knowing that when the world changes, this it how it happens, in ordinary living rooms in ordinary afternoons ' Because it was nearly edited out and I made a decision to keep it and because I can still absolutely conjure up the hot Saudi sun bathing that green velvet sofa and the whir of the VHS as it re-winded.

My answers:

Favorite Madonna song and why?
I have so many but I think 'Live to Tell' wins. I wasn't sure what that song was about when I was growing up but I was going through such a rough time-- I didn't know then that this roughness was known as 'patriarchy squashing the spirit out of you',and something about Live to Tell always made me feel better. 

Favorite video and look?   
Frozen. I think her breaking into crows is beautiful. Crows/Ravens are everywhere in Pakistan, sleek and sexy  creatures, they look like onyx jewels embedded in emerald trees. Madonna's henna/mehndi  and the crows are always  able to transport me-the-immigrant back to my birth country in a very interesting way!  

Madonna with Nickie Minaj and MIA: Ultra Diva or Desperate? 
I really don't think Madonna is desperate. Whether one loves her, hates her, or couldn't give a shit about her, fact is she's an icon. I do think though that Madonna does not want to be stuck in some 'gracefully aging category' where she's doing revival. She's so alive and vital and can do stuff the Brittanys and Christinas and Lady Gagas and Nickies and MIAs have yet to prove they even have the ability to do. Madonna's got a young soul and her body-- well you've seen her body! I was so irritated when, after Madonna's 2012 Super Bowl performance, everyone seemed to focus on how Madonna had done quite well given 'her age'. Abhor Ageism. On another note, I was watching the Super Bowl with a bunch of desi friends and their kids. When Madonna was on stage flanked by two brown/desi girls (MIA is from Sri Lanka and Nicki Minaj has Indian in her) I though I was going to choke up and die. I mean this is the Super Bowl, okay, a quintessentially white-American sport and there's not one but two brown girls up there.   

Can you tell us a little about your writing and revision process for 'Through the Wilderness'.
I was browsing the internet when I came upon a call for submissions at the ezine Literary Mama for an anthology called 'Madonna and Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop'. My stomach plummeted-- yes, I have a Madonna story, do I have a Madonna story, I've had my Madonna story ever since my early teens and here was an opportunity to deliver it into the world. My stomach  plummeted even more when I saw that the deadline was literally a day or so away. So I literally put  everything on hold  until the essay was written and I'd emailed it along to its fate. When Laura Barcella sent an acceptance e-mail, I was ridiculously delighted.  We went through two edits to streamline the essay and then it was done. As for my favorite passage above, as suggested I did delete it at first, but then a few weeks later I sent Laura a frantic e-mail asking to please have it reinstalled. I know writers are  supposed to kill our darlings but this darling was just too darling :)

What are you working on now?
I've been invited to guest edit an issue of the e-zine Sugar Mule so am working on that. Am also revising a novel.

Soniah's Bio:
Soniah Kamal was born in Pakistan and raised in England and Saudi Arabia. She earned a B.A. in Philosophy with Honors from St. John's College Annapolis, MD and her undergraduate thesis was the recipient of the Susan B Irene Award. Soniah's essays, short stories and books reviews have been published in the US, UK, Canada, Pakistan and India.
For more go to

Buy Madonna and Me

Still to come: Interviews with Jamie Beckman, Kim Windyka, Tamara Lynch, Courtney Martin and Erin Trahan

Read Q & A with Caroline Leavitt
Read Q & A with Rebecca Traister
Read Q & A with Erin Bradley
Read Q & A with  Jen Hazen
Read Q & A with Maria Raha
Read Q & A with Sarah Sweeney
Read Q & A with Joshunda Victoria Sanders
Read Q & A with editor of the anthology Laura Barcella
Read Q & A with Wendy Tokunaga  

Sept 1, 2012. Decatur Book Festival. Local Prose Stage. 3: 15.
Soniah Kamal will be talking about growing up Muslim with Madonna. She will also read from her essay 'Through the Wilderness'. Please join her.

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