Vol. 7: Author Marjan Kamali Refuses to Give In to Stereotypes
Recently, the New York Times published an article called “What It’s Really Like to Work in Hollywood (If you’re not a straight white man),” a collection of stories from actors, directors, producers, and other film professionals who are consistently marginalized and underrepresented in a white male-dominated industry. To draw attention to similar issues in publishing, an industry with a dramatic disparity in racial demographics, we're collecting stories from writers, agents, and editors of color about what it's like to work and publish in an industry historically dominated by white people.
In advance of the Writers of Color Roundtable event at GrubStreet's Muse and the Marketplace conference on Friday, April 29, we’re kicking off the conversation with #Muse16 presenters. In this installment is author Marjan Kamali, who will be leading Muse sessions on Politics and Prose and Writing on the Hyphen: Capturing the Authentic and Avoiding the Stereotype.
The father character in my novel, Together Tea, was complicated but ultimately a joy to write. I wanted to create a husband and father modeled on the many Iranian men I know in my own life: One who is devoted to his wife and children, extremely compassionate, and who throws his heart and soul into all that he does. One of the lowest points in shopping this novel around came a few years back, when someone in publishing told me that the book would never be sold because “no one wants to read about a Muslim man who’s kind.” She suggested that I add a scene where the character “beats up his wife or something.” She told me that readers expected that when reading about a Middle Eastern man. I remember sitting in front of this professional and feeling my heart sink. I told her that was not the character I was writing and that I wouldn’t just add “a wife-beating scene” because of market demands. I walked out of that meeting determined more than ever to not give in to the stereotypes and tropes peddled about my ethnicity. I am so grateful that I ultimately found an agent and an editor who honored and celebrated my characters and who appreciated their complexity and humanity. Together Tea calls for a kind, loving husband and father, and if that doesn’t fit with some people’s perceptions of what an Iranian man is, then that’s all the more reason why I’m glad I wrote the book.
Marjan Kamali is the author of the novel Together Tea, which was a Massachusetts Book Award Finalist, an NPR WBUR Good Read Pick, and a Target Emerging Author Selection. She attended UC Berkeley and earned an MBA from Columbia Business School and an MFA from NYU. Her short stories have appeared in the anthologies Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been and Tremors and her nonfiction has been published in The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Review of Books. Together Tea is her debut novel and has been translated into several languages, including Italian, German, Norwegian, Czech, and Slovak.