Sami Shah has been profiled in the New York Times, ABC's The Australian Story, BBC Radio 4, NPR, TEDx, and QI with Stephen Fry.

His autobiography, "I, MIGRANT" has been nominated for the NSW Premier's Literary Award, WA Premier's Literary Award, and the Russell Prize for Humour Writing.Sami has written columns for national and international newspapers and magazines, short stories for anthologies, and documentaries for radio. His first novel "FIRE BOY" was released in 2016.

He's currently based in Melbourne, and is a frequent contributor to ABC RN and ABC Melbourne.

Describe yourself in 3 words?

Really needing naps

If you could change everyone in the world’s view on one current issue, what would it be?
Option 1: Refugees. Given the global crisis that’s unfolding with more refugees today than almost ever before, the way governments and safe countries (everywhere from America to UAE) disregard and condemn refugees is disgusting.

Option 2: Pakistani mangoes. They’re the best mangoes in the world and should be cheaply and readily available everywhere in the world.


As a South-West Asian author have you faced any difficulties in publishing? How did you overcome them?

The difficulties, in my experience, vary between genres. I have two non-fiction books, which I almost had to fight to not publish. The first one, an autobiography, I had to be convinced into writing by a publisher. And the second, a journalistic work, came with the contract I signed when I was commissioned to make a radio documentary. There is a huge interest in books about non-Anglo/non-Caucasian/non-Western lives and points of view. I personally don’t even think the readership numbers justify the level of publishing interest, but there it is.
Fiction, however, remains the domain of white, western writers only. Particularly genre fiction. Fire Boy was rejected by over 30 literary agents (I still don’t have an agent) and three major publishers. All of them, when they would respond with something other than a form letter, said they loved the writing but didn’t think there was a market for the book. One agent who rejected the book, was keen on representing it a year later when I re-sent it under a fake American pseudonym. This while “The Hero of Whiteness Saves another Generic Anglo-European Fantasy Realm: Book 13” lines every store shelf.

The only reason Fire Boy is a physical book is because an editor who got bored of reading generic Western genre fiction saw my tweet expressing exhaustion, asked to read it, then published it through a new indie publishing house that’s never published anything else before. It’s since sold consistently and better than many other genre fiction books that came out at the same time from first-time authors, and almost entirely to an audience of people who contact me saying they’re grateful something other than “White Hero Rules the White Lands: Book 92” exists.

Publishers and literary agents love paying lip-service to diversity, but none of them actually mean it. The only way to prove them wrong, it seems, is by publishing it yourself or through someone too small to care about the risks, and then stand there pointing at the results and yelling as loud as we can.

Do you remember where you first heard about Djinns? What made you want to write a novel based around the mythology?

Djinns have been a part of my life as far back as I can remember. We grew up with stories about them, and I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of them. To me, the fact that there weren’t already good books about them was infuriating. They were always these 1001 Arabian Nights adaptations or homages, which is great if you’re into that sort of thing, but just didn’t represent the djinns we were told about. Our djinns didn’t hide in lamps and grant wishes, they possessed you and attacked you and hurt you. I wanted to tell that story. About djinns that were scary and ever present. And no more 1001 Arabian Nights references. People think it’s the only work of fiction to come out of the entire Muslim world.

If there was only one thing people took from reading Fireboy, what would you like it to be?

That books set in other countries and about other mythologies and cultures are as universal as ones set in America or England. Oh, and never offer a woman with twisted feet a ride in your car.
Did you want to publish a book as a child?

I think I wrote my first book when I was 9 years old. Entirely hand written, a blatant rip-off of Ursula K. LeGuin’s Wizard of Earthsea. Writing fiction is all I’ve ever wanted to do, and for me holding a physical book with my name on the spine was the greatest achievement of my life.

Finally, do you ever get criticized for using humor to tackle world issues?
From time to time, people get upset about it. But it’s not something I take seriously, as the complaints always seem selfish. I ridicule a variety of topics and issues, across cultures and societies. And people only get offended by the one that personally affects them. Pakistanis get angry at the religion jokes, Americans get angry at the Trump jokes, Australians get angry at jokes about their terrible refugee policies, etc. If everyone got equally offended over the same single topic, then I’d reconsider it right away. But the fact that they only care about the one thing they hold personally sacred, proves to me their anger isn’t worth taking seriously.


2 thoughts on “‘Publishers love paying lip-service to diversity, but none of them actually mean it.’ || Sami Shah

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