Salam Reads (Simon & Schuster) Celebrates Five Year Anniversary: Interview with Editor Deeba Zargarpur & author S.K. Ali + HUGE Ramadan Giveaway
A few years ago Salaam Reads, an imprint at Simon & Schuster was started to uplift Muslim voices. This year they are celebrating five years! KidLit in Color’s Aya Khalil had the honor to interview editor Deeba and author S.K. Ali about publishing, books, and what’s coming up for them. Plus, in honor of the anniversary and Ramadan, Salam Reads is giving away a copy of ALL OF THEIR BOOKS!
A.K: Salam Deeba! Thanks for letting me interview you for KidLit in Color. Can you please tell us your official title and full name and title?
D.Z.: Deeba Zargarpur, Editor at Salaam Reads and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
A.K: Can you tell the readers how Salaam Reads was started and why?
When Salaam Reads was founded, it was, to my knowledge, the first imprint at a major publisher focused on joyous, positive, and diverse portrayals of Muslim characters and stories. When executive editor Zareen Jaffery and publisher Justin Chanda launched it in 2016, their goal was twofold: to offer Muslim children, across a wide variety of lived experiences, the chance to see themselves reflected in literature, and as stated by Zareen, to “plant seeds of empathy” in non-Muslim readers.
While I was already an adult when the imprint launched, its books had an immediate impact on me. Prior to the imprint’s creation, I never saw myself in books. In my childhood and young adult life as a reader, I felt invisible, like my voice and lived experience were not meant to be part of the American experience. As an Afghan-American Muslim who grew up in a post 9/11 world, my identity was both erased and feared in mainstream media. It wasn’t until I read Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan, part of Salaam Reads’ inaugural list, that I finally got to see a positively depicted Muslim perspective that felt close to my own. It was a powerful moment for me. It gave me a sense of peace and belonging that I’d been missing my whole life. And, five years later, there’s still so much need for stories that offer this experience to readers, which is why Salaam Reads remains essential for young people today. Every child deserves to feel seen, to be celebrated, and to be the hero of their own story.
A.K: What are some upcoming books from Salaam Reads and what are they about?
D.Z: I’m so excited about the books we have coming up in 2022 and 2023! Many beloved Salaam Reads authors are returning, some with continuations of fan-favorite stories, others with something totally new. And we have some exciting debut voices on the list as well. In 2022, we’re thrilled to be publishing S.K. Ali’s much-anticipated sequel to her much-accoladed novel Love from A to Z. Fan-favorite characters Adam and Zayneb continue their love story in Love from Mecca to Medina, which takes them on a spiritual journey together. From Hanna Alkaf, author of award winner The Weight of Our Sky, comes Queen of the Tiles, a gripping murder mystery set during an intense Scrabble competition, in which teen Najwa Bakri must investigate the mysterious death of her best friend when her Instagram comes back to life with cryptic posts and messages a year after her death.
In middle grade, we are thrilled to be working with Women’s March co-organizer and activist Linda Sarsour on a nonfiction book, We’re In This Together, an inspiring and empowering young readers edition of her memoir We Are Not Here to Be Bystanders. In this edition for a younger audience, Linda shares the memories that shaped her into the activist she is today, and how these pivotal moments in her life led her to being an organizer in one of the largest single-day protests in US history.
In picture books, from beloved Mommy’s Khimar author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, comes Abdul’s Story, a charming and encouraging picture book about a little boy who loves storytelling but struggles with writing until he learns that it’s okay to make mistakes.
And looking ahead to early 2023, I can’t wait to share Love Match by debut author Priyanka Taslim with readers. It’s a heartfelt young adult rom-com about Bangladeshi-American Zahra Khan who is exasperated when her meddling mother arranges a match to secure their family’s financial security—just as Zahra is falling in love with someone else. It’s frothy and fun, but with a layer of depth, and sure to delight any reader who loves a good romance.
A.K: Wow, so many amazing books! What kind of books are you looking to acquire for Salaam Reads nowadays and how can interested readers find out more information about submission guidelines?
D.Z: Since joining Salaam Reads in 2020, it’s been my goal to further expand on what Salaam Reads has already been doing beautifully, by acquiring even more genres and formats of books that center positive and joyous portrayals of the Muslim experience. We want to share stories that center Muslim characters without depicting their religious identity as a major source of conflict, whether in contemporary realism, historical fiction, fantasy, or any other genre. Some projects I’d love to see in my inbox for Salaam Reads include grounded and epic fantasy, non-Western myths/fairytales/folklore, anything that sparks imagination and wonder, and stories that feature non-traditional families.
We recognize that finding a path to publication through the traditional (and historically marginalizing) channels can be limiting, so we have an open submission policy for Muslim authors not represented by literary agents. You can find our submission guidelines at our website, www.salaamreads.com.
A.K: This is very helpful for authors, thank you! What future do you see for Salaam Reads?
D.Z: I’m excited about what the future holds for Salaam Reads. In the past five years, we’ve seen an increase in literature for Muslim children across all publishers, which we’re thrilled about—it means Muslim readers don’t need to depend solely on us to find books that reflect their experiences, and that (we hope) more and more Muslim writers and illustrators will create incredible work, knowing it can find an audience. I can’t wait to see what those creators will make and look forward to partnering with more of them to share their stories.
Since its inception, Salaam Reads’ books have sold a million copies worldwide. We intend to continue publishing picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and young adult novels that serve young people. From contemporary to fantastical, science fiction, and more, Salaam Reads remains a home for literature that widens the lens of what it means to be Muslim, offering readers a way to see themselves reflected in the pages of our books and to discover the wide variety and many intersections of what the Muslim experience can be. There are so many facets of the global Muslim experience that we have yet to publish books about, and so many varieties of voices I’d love to find homes for on our list. I’m hopeful for what the future will bring for Salaam Reads, and excited to be a part of shaping that future.
A.K: Incredible that millions of copies have been around the world, inspiring so many children and adults. Thank you so much for answering my questions and Ramadan Kareem!
Interview with S.K. Ali
Aya Khalil: Salaam! Thank you for letting me interview you! I am a huge fan of your books and I'm so grateful to be interviewing you for KidLit in Color. Love from Mecca to Medina comes out this fall! Can you tell readers, especially those who haven't read the first book Love from A to Z, what it's about?
S.K. Ali: Thank you! Excited to be chatting with you. Love from Mecca to Medina is about two young people, Adam and Zayneb, going on Umrah shortly after their nikah. They join a group of Muslims traveling to Mecca and Medina and it’s about what Adam and Zayneb encounter on their journey — to the center of their faith, and the center of their souls. And how traveling reveals parts of you that you may never have faced before. It’s also about the “after” part of the “happily-ever-after”. Wow, this all makes it sound sort of ominous. But it’s not; it’s got light, humorous moments as well as romantic scenes. And soulful parts. Soulful explorations of our human weaknesses. But happy soul parts too! I will stop talking now.
A.K: Your books tackle important topics, especially for Muslims in America, like racism within the community, Islamophobia, and other struggles and also joys like love and travelling. What are some themes we will be seeing in Love from Mecca to Medina?
S.K Ali: How to fall and still get up and keep going. What’s in our hands and what’s not. What we lowly humans are tasked with and what we're not and how to give ourselves breaks and still aspire to the heights we can reach. (I don’t know if these are themes but I wanted this book to be spiritual while being real so let’s say the theme is Real Spirituality.)
A.K: I love that. I actually vividly remember the first time I saw Saints and Misfits (this was your debut, right?) at my local Barnes & Nobles, grabbed it and read it right away. I was so inspired and loved that a beautiful, authentic book written by a Muslim author was on the shelves and it inspired me to look into publishing! What do you hope your readers will discover and perhaps learn when they read your books?
S.K Ali: Aw, I love this! I’m so glad that Saints and Misfits inspired you! I hope when readers encounter my books, they feel the way you did — that there are spaces for us to share our stories. I also hope that readers learn that they can bring their whole selves everywhere, both in the physical sense (at workplaces, educational settings, etc.) and creative spaces like in the pages of books and on screens. I hope by reading my books where characters are allowed to be fully Muslim, that readers also feel they don’t need to edit their identities to be “palatable”.
A.K: Did you face any struggles while writing Love from Mecca and Medina? Can you give readers a sneak peak at a few lines?
S.K Ali: I faced the struggle of incorporating spirituality in a Young Adult novel. Teens are spiritual people too but it’s very rare to find YA novels exploring that aspect of our lives and there was a voice inside telling me I wasn’t “allowed” to do this; but I kept on because I don’t want spirituality to be a taboo topic. When we’re breaking down so many barriers in storytelling, why not this one? Why not explore that so many of us, of all ages and backgrounds, regardless of faith or lack of it, think about our souls, why we're here, the bigger questions of life?
And oh, a sneak peek? Here you go:
She was standing by the pillar umbrella to the left of the main gate. In a black abaya, open at the front, under which she had a yellow dress on.
On her head was a black hijab; on the shoulder of one arm, the strap of her backpack.
I took all these details in hungrily, like she would disappear any minute.
(This is not one of the spiritual parts.)
A.K: This is all so beautiful. Thanks for sharing. Is there anything else you'd like readers to know about your upcoming books? How can readers connect with you?
S.K Ali: Just that I’m working on more stories – in new genres! Think historical, mystery, adult rom-com and even sci-fi. I love writing all sorts of things so I’m in my element right now. To connect with me, find me on TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and on my website at skalibooks.com.
Thank you for having me on KidLit in Color!
A.K.: Thank you so much for answering all of my questions and Ramadan Kareem!
Readers, make sure you enter our giveaways on Instagram and Twitter for a chance to win all of these books!!