Home Muslim religion Emory Junior’s Debut Novel Highlights the Voices of Young Black Muslim Women | Emory University

Emory Junior’s Debut Novel Highlights the Voices of Young Black Muslim Women | Emory University


An Emory College of Arts and Sciences junior will make her literary debut on February 8 with a book billed as one of the “best” and “most anticipated” young adult novels of 2022. But you can be forgiven if” You Truly Assumed” was not on your radar.

Fellow Robert W. Woodruff from the Washington, DC area, kept her accomplishment close.

Laila Sabreen did not discuss the book with the professor who oversaw her year-long research into the representation of Black Girlhood in black women’s fiction – an issue her novel tackles through the stories of three black Muslim teenagers who become friends after a terrorist attack. The Islamophobia they face.

Sabreen discussed her writing with friends. But, after they recorded her signing her agent contract as a freshman in the Raoul Hall lounge, most of the conversations focused on more traditional college chatter like plans for the weekends, classes and exams.

“My writing was originally just for me,” Sabreen says. “Then I realized it could go where a lot of stories don’t, with black Muslim characters written by a black Muslim author. I hope (the novel) makes room for more authors black muslims write any story that is authentic to them.

“You Truly Assumed” is published by Inkyard Press, a young adult imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Sabreen will share her experience writing the novel at a virtual book launch with Decatur’s Little Shop of Stories bookstore on February 8. An Emory-focused online event, featuring Margari Hill of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, will take place Feb. 16 co-sponsored by Emory’s English and Religion departments.

She may also be a guest lecturer in Muslim Women‘s Storytelling, the Emory College crossover course that included the novel for review this spring.

“For a while it was just mine,” Sabreen says. “Looking back, I realize it was a coming-of-age story with little pieces of me in it. A lot has changed since then, now that it’s ready for anyone to play. other.

Scientist and author

Growing up, Sabreen always enjoyed reading and writing. She ran a book blog with her reviews during her first two years of high school, then turned to writing to express her feelings as she watched anti-Muslim sentiment grow after the 2016 election.

Even though author Adiba Jaigirdar helped her with revisions to the novel and provided other support through Author Mentor Match during her senior year of high school, Sabreen expected her writing to remain private.

At Emory, she originally planned a pre-health major in neuroscience and behavioral biology (NBB) or a health care-focused quantitative methods major (QSS). Days before starting her freshman year on campus, she completed Emory’s STEM Pathways pre-orientation program for students from underrepresented groups interested in science, technology, engineering, and math fields. (STEM).

There she cemented the close friendships that marked her time at Emory. She told her friends she was a novelist in the same concrete way others might describe a sunny day, but it didn’t quite register.

“As STEM people, we didn’t really know what it meant to be a novelist other than it seemed serious to have an agent,” says Olivia Bautista, a young QSS student with a concentration in biological anthropology. “Now I know Laila is still writing a novel, even though she’s doing all these other things at Emory.”

Although the pandemic interrupted Sabreen’s first year on campus, she was active both as a board member of the Emory Black Student Alliance and as a tutor at the Emory Writing Center.

An introductory course in sociology opened her eyes to analytical approaches to explaining how people interact with each other and with the world around them. She declared a double major in English — literature, not creative writing — and sociology to explore that overlap.

“Working on edits to my book made me more aware of what I valued about Emory and gave me the confidence to follow that interest,” says Sabreen. “The writer in me is very interested in people’s motivations and what it means if I can create more realistic characters.”

When Sabreen approached near the end of her freshman year Meina Yates-Richard, assistant professor of African-American studies and English, it was not to discuss her own writing.

Instead, she presented a reading list to begin the research she wanted Yates-Richard to guide. Sabreen is now submitting the Scholarly Inquiry and Research Experience (SIRE) project to a peer-reviewed journal.

She is also expanding the project, which focused on black women authors in the 21st century, to include authors from the 19th and 20th centuries for her honors thesis. His plan after that is a doctorate in English literature.

“We met at least every two months, sometimes weekly, for an entire year, and she never mentioned [her novel]. Not once,” Yates-Richard says. “Finding that Laila is an author makes a lot of sense, because I see her aligning herself with a specific tradition of African-American literature whose depth comes from a research base that fuels the imagination.”

“An important window”

Sabreen’s ties to the scholar-writer tradition continue this spring, with “You Truly Assumed” included in the Cross-listed Muslim Women’s Storytelling course.

Instructor Rose Deighton, a post-doctoral fellow at Emory’s Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry, assigned the novel as the first class text. The unit pays particular attention to how black Muslim women are overlooked in the public understanding of Islam and marginalized within certain Muslim communities.

“Laila’s engaging storytelling provides an important window into the many different ways that Black Muslim girls and women negotiate their identities and experiences,” says Deighton.

To help readers, especially those unfamiliar with this intersectionality, students in Deighton’s class are also creating a guide to reading the novel.

The guide will include a glossary and chapter-by-chapter prompts, such as questions about Sabreen’s intentional use of slang and the decision not to italicize Arabic words. Deighton will edit the guide and then give it to Little Shop of Stories to share with customers.

“As publishers recognize that more diverse stories need to be told, we’re seeing a lot more adults reading young adult novels now,” says store co-owner Diane Capriola. “It’s an exciting time to be a YA Bookseller. We have much more to offer readers who want to read a book like Laila’s. »

“Reach as many people as possible”

It’s also an exciting time to be Laila Sabreen, both as an author and as a student. She stopped serving in Emory’s BSA to focus on book-related events this spring, but she continues to mentor with Matriculate, helping low-income high school students navigate the college application process. .

She has also started digging into her honors thesis and recently submitted her second novel. Written during the editing of the first book, the novel is an examination of the grief and loss Sabreen wrote after the sudden death of a family member just before her arrival at Emory.

“A lot of things come out of my writing. It’s my way of processing what I feel and what I think,” she says.

Sabreen told friends that a short story — part of an anthology to be released next year — was loosely based on her first semester on campus.

“I know she’ll keep it general, but I can’t wait to read it,” says junior Helena Zeleke, an NBB major who bonded with Sabreen in STEM Pathways.

“Being with Laila, seeing her pursue things that seem unimaginable and achieve success, made me wonder what I had to try,” adds Zeleke, who applied for and was admitted to Mount Icahn School of Medicine. Sinai with Sabreen. encouragement. “It’s powerful to have a friend like that.”

Not to surprise future readers, Sabreen’s powers also include writing a third novel during the recent winter hiatus. This way, she can focus on her favorite part of writing – editing – while still having time for her academic work.

“My interests change, so I want to be able to change direction,” says Sabreen. “I want to reach as many people as possible, when I’m ready.”