Sheba Karim

Sheba Karim
Photo by Anjali Bhargava

I fell in love with writing at an early age.  I used to write novels in spiral bound notebooks, complete with illustrations that I’d copied from somewhere else. None of these novels were ever completed; back then, I couldn't quite get past the beginnings of things.  My parents encouraged my writing, but, as hardworking Pakistani immigrants to whom medicine and perhaps engineering were the only feasible career paths, they felt it their duty to occasionally remind me, “Writing is a very nice past-time—for a doctor.”

I’m not sure why, but I stopped writing in high school.  In fact, I didn’t think about writing again in any serious way until sometime in law school (not being very good at science, I’d decided to pursue law instead of medicine).  After I graduated, I practiced family law for Legal Services in New York City, representing survivors of domestic violence who were primarily from South Asian countries.  It was good work; every day I did something tangible to help someone else and I grew close to some of my clients.  But the more I practiced law, the more I realized I didn’t want to be a lawyer, and the more I wondered why I had waylaid my dreams of writing.  I realized that, if I didn’t at least make a serious attempt to pursue a career as a writer, I’d always regret it, and spend the rest of my life wondering “what if.”  I began taking writing classes at the New School in Manhattan, and started working on a portfolio.  Eventually I applied to MFA programs in creative writing, and was accepted into the Iowa Writers Workshop.  I quit my job, and began my life as a full-time writer.

Right before I started at Iowa, I did a writing residency at Hedgebrook.  While I was there, I wrote a humorous monologue about a Pakistani-American girl recounting some of her more traumatic teenage experiences.  This monologue was later performed in San Francisco.  The audience seemed to really enjoy it, and I began to think that there might be a novel here, and how it would be a funny novel, but also an important one, because there weren’t very many books that addressed the experiences Pakistanis or Muslims have growing up in U.S.  When I got to Iowa, I was still mulling over the idea when I found out that a children’s fiction workshop was being offered (apparently for the first time ever).  I took this as a sign, registered for the workshop, and began working on Skunk Girl.  The rest, as they say, is herstory.

Sheba Karim lives in New York City.  She is working on a short story collection and is very glad not to be a lawyer anymore.


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Photo by Anjali Bhargava
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Skunk Girl

Sheba Karim
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

If Nina Khan were to rate herself on the unofficial Pakistani prestige point system – the one she’s sure all the aunties and uncles use to determine the most...


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