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‘When We Were Sisters’: Fatimah Asghar on monsters, boundaries, and creativity

Fatimah Asghar, author of ‘When We Were Sisters.’

This week on The Write Question, host Lauren Korn speaks with Fatimah Asghar, author of When We Were Sisters, a novel that traces the intense bond of three orphaned siblings who, after their parents die, are left to raise one another. As Bindu Bansinath writes of the book, “There is no idealism in When We Were Sisters. Shared trauma disintegrates relationships as much as it strengthens them. Monsters aren’t just monsters; they are subject to demons of their own.”

This novel very tenderly examines the bonds and fractures of sibling-hood, names the perils of being three female-bodied, Muslim American children alone against the world, and ultimately illustrates how those who’ve lost everything might still make homes in one another.

About Fatimah:

Fatimah Asghar is the author of If They Come for Us and When We Were Sisters. Fatimah is a poet, filmmaker, educator, and performer. They are the writer and co-creator of Brown Girls, an Emmy-nominated web series that highlights friendships between women of color. Along with Safia Elhillo, they are the editor of Halal If You Hear Me, an anthology that celebrates Muslim writers who are also women, queer, gender-nonconforming, and/or trans.

Fatimah Asghar recommends:

As She Appearsby Shelley Wong (YesYes Books)

Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (University of California Press; re-issue)

Be Holding by Ross Gay (University of Pittsburgh Press)

The work of Douglas Kearney

Lord of the Flies by William Golding (Penguin Random House)

We the Animals by Justin Torres (Mariner Books)

City of Glass by Paul Auster (Penguin Random House)

In Search of Shiva: A Study of Folk Religious Practices in Pakistan by Haroon Khalid (Rupa Publications India)

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (Grove Press)

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press)

God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (Penguin Random House)

Lauren Korn recommends:

If They Come for Us and When We Were Sisters by Fatimah Asghar (Penguin Random House; One World)

Fatimah Asghar Redefines the Orphan Narrative” by Bindu Bansinath (The Cut)

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Vintage Books)

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson (Riverhead Books)

Registers of Illuminated Villages by Tarfia Faizullah (Graywolf Press)

The work of Douglas Kearney

Girls That Never Die by Safia Elhillo (Penguin Random House; One World)

The Write Question team for this episode was Lauren Korn, host and co-producer; and Chris Moyles, co-producer, editor, and sound engineer.

The Write Question logo and brand (2022) was designed by Molly Russell. You can see more of her work at and on Instagram @iamthemollruss. Our music was written and recorded by John Floridis.

Funding for The Write Question comes from Humanities Montana; members of Montana Public Radio; and from the Greater Montana Foundation—encouraging communication on issues, trends, and values of importance to Montanans.

The Write Question is a production of Montana Public Radio.

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Lauren R. Korn holds an M.A. in poetry from the University of New Brunswick, where she was the recipient of the Tom Riesterer Memorial Prize and the Angela Ludan Levine Memorial Book Prize. A former bookseller and the former Director of the Montana Book Festival, she is now an Arts and Culture Producer at Montana Public Radio and the host of it’s literature-based radio program and podcast, ‘The Write Question.’
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