Written by Katelyn Connolly
In January 2017, a group of literary agents and publishers announced an “Open Call for Submissions from Muslim Writers,” just two months after the election of President Donald Trump. The call responded to the now-infamous “Muslim ban” the president signed during his first week in office, which sought to halt immigration or travel to the United States from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen—all Muslim-majority countries. The literary community that created the open call believe they occupy “a unique position to help contribute to bringing more empathy, compassion, understanding and tolerance into this world through books,” and that Muslim authors are particularly necessary voices given the current climate in the United States and abroad.
Since January, the executive order has been struck down in various forms by multiple federal appellate courts—and at least one Muslim author has worked out a publishing deal through the open call for submissions. Layla AlAmmar grew up in Kuwait, and her upcoming debut novel, The Pact We Made, tracks a 30-year-old woman’s life in that country. AlAmmar says the novel explores the contradictions in the protagonist Dahlia’s life as she “straddles two worlds: one in which she’s a modern woman living in a modern city, and another where she can’t have male friends, or leave the country without her father’s permission.”
In the context of rampant Islamophobia present today in the U.S., such a story is valuable for the ways in which it depicts an autonomous women living a complex life in the Middle East. Even though Dahlia deals with certain injustices, much of her daily life and struggle for freedom is relatable to the experiences of women in any society.
While this is the first book confirmed to be published through the open call for Muslim authors, it sets a tone for what is possible. Participating agents are looking for a wide range of genres, including fantasy novels for kids, young adult fiction, and all sorts of writing for adults, from romance to historical fiction to memoir.
The Pact We Made, published by Stonesong in New York City and Borough Press in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth, will be released on March 7, 2019. AlAmmar, who currently lives in Kuwait, has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh. She has been published in Quail Bell Magazine, the St. Andrews University Prose Journal and Aesthetica Magazine, in which she was shortlisted for the magazine’s 2014 Creative Writing Award. Read her story, “In the Midst of Life,” for Quail Bell Magazine here.