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Usman T. Malik: “Fantastika can freshen up contemporary South Asian literature”

Usman T. Malik in conversation with Salik Shah:

What was the inspiration behind “Resurrection Points“?

When I was at the Clarion West Writers Workshop, I told my classmates about a cadaver dissection I participated in for Anatomy class.

We’re having lunch and I say to my neighbor maliciously, “I was nineteen when I dissected my first corpse” and E. Lily Yu turns to me, points, and says, “Write a story with that first line and I’ll read the hell out of it.”

So I did.

Of course the burning of Joseph Colony, a Christian muhallah in Lahore, in 2013 was on my mind too. Persecution of minorities and dead bodies that moved — the two came together in that strange way that leads to story making and, well, I had my story.

You’ve said that speculative fiction is the hope for Pakistan. What makes SF relevant for South Asia and the world?

SF is a prism that distorts the reality we have gotten desensitized to and in doing so sheds new light on it. It forces us to reevaluate our perception of the world around us. Contemporary South Asian literature is inundated with a visceral and stern realism that could use a dose of fantastika to freshen it up. Make it feel young and excited about possibilities again.

I think you are not only the first Pakistani but also the first South Asian author to win a major SF award (Bram Stoker) in America. How is the response to your work in Pakistan?

To be honest, I don’t think a lot of Pakistanis know of my work. Short fiction is a tiny, ignored world. Few people read it diligently in any country, let alone Pakistan where most of the readership is in Urdu anyway. Those who have read it seem to like whatever little work I’ve put out so far. I’m grateful for that.

How is the reception of South Asian SF in general in United States within and outside SF community?

American and western readers in the SF community/fandom who read short fiction are supportive of South Asian SF/Horror. A lot of the mythos and modes of storytelling are new to them and lovers of stories usually welcome that.

What do you think is the role of a writer today? How have your goals and priorities changed as a writer over the years?

It depends on how the writer perceives his role, I think. We all have different priorities and the variations are perfectly acceptable, of course. So I speak for myself only when I say I believe a writer’s role is to tell good, original, memorable stories in fresh prose. Usually, for me, memorable stories hide layers of meaning, some of which may take years to come to the reader and are all the more rewarding for the wait.

What are you planning to read in 2016?

Tons of stuff, I hope. Looking forward to Ken Liu’s first collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. Also excited about All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones, and Roses and Rot by Kat Howard. I hope to finish reading Collected Stories by Naiyer Masud. Everything by Cormac McCarthy I can find and every upcoming work by Yoon Ha Lee, Alice Sola Kim, Nathan Ballingrud, Jeff Vandermeer, Alyssa Wong, Shannon Peavey, JY Yang, Helena Bell, Isabel Yap, E. Lily Yu, Kai Ashante Wilson, Malcolm Devlin, and other writers whom I religiously devour.

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Photograph by Functionally Literate.

Mithila Review: Fund Drive

Usman T. Malik
Usman T. Malik is a Pakistani writer of strange stories. His work has won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Nebula, and has been reprinted in several Year's Best anthologies. He resides in two worlds. You can find him on Twitter @usmantm or at his website: www.usmanmalik.org.
Salik Shah
Salik Shah is the founding editor of Mithila Review. His poetry, fiction and nonfiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s Science Fiction and Juggernaut, among other publications. You can find him on Twitter: @Salik Website: salikshah.com