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September 11, 2018

Fatimah Asghar's Playlist for Her Poetry Collection "If They Come for Us"

If They Come for Us

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Fatimah Asghar's debut poetry collection If They Come for Us is both intensely personal and political, profound and poignant.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"[Fatimah] Asghar presents a debut poetry collection showcasing both a fierce and tender new voice. The poems, largely based on the experience of living in America as a Pakistani Muslim, reflect Asghar’s keen perceptions about the search for, and inability to firmly fix upon, one true identity. . . . As Asghar traces the threads of her experiences, she slowly unfurls the larger fabric of her heritage and, in doing so, honors all who have been pushed aside, divided from country and culture, misrepresented, and misunderstood. Through simultaneously lyrical and frank poems like ‘Kal,’ ‘Ghareeb,’ and ‘Halal,’ Asghar allows poignant contradictions to rise to the surface, like a lotus reaching through mud and murky water to beautifully bloom."

In her own words, here is Fatimah Asghar's Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection If They Come for Us:

My collection of poems If They Come for Us explores the impossible categories of a national identity in a constantly shifting world. I’ve always been fascinated by my mother and her generation in my family. They lived through the 1947 Partition of India and went through several identities in one lifetime—British Indian colonial subjects, Kashmiri, Pakistani, British immigrants living in London, and then American. What does it mean to have who you are changed so often, and so violently? The book really sits with that, as well as my own grappling with identity, growing up as an orphan, and my battles with sexuality while living in a very Islamophobic America.

Music was a critical aspect in writing my book, and influencing my work. Here are 8 songs that helped shape my book.

1. PROJECT CHICK by Cash Money Millionaires

This song came out in 2000, when I was 11. It would play on the radio all the time and my immigrant Uncle and Aunt, who were learning English at the time, would put our names in it and sing, “Fati is a project chick,” without realizing what that meant. Being older and thinking about the lyrics of the song, I realize how fucked up that is since the song is so graphically about sex. But we didn’t really know it at the time. The song is also referenced in a poem in the book, called “My Love For Nature.”

2. ALWAYS ON TIME by Ja Rule and Ashanti

So much of this book rests in the nostalgia of childhood for me, in the age of Ja Rule and Ashanti. This is one of my favorite songs from childhood and was so much of the soundtrack to me growing up.

3. DEEWANI MASTANI from the soundtrack from Bajirao Mastani

I was thinking a lot about Bollywood and cinema while writing the book (particularly for the poem Film Treatment: How We Left) and this is one of my favorite songs that I would have on repeat over and over again. I love the song and the movie, and the opulence shown in the scene when this plays.

4. PARTITION by Beyoncé

Given that Partition is a huge theme in my book, OF COURSE I listened to Beyoncé’s Partition over and over again. There’s an entire suite of poems in my book called “Partition” that examine the historical event of the 1947 Partition in India, and one of those poems delves into the Beyoncé song.

5. WAY UP by Jamila Woods

I feel like the thesis statement to my book is “just because I’m born here/ don’t mean I’m from here” from this song by Jamila. Jamila was working on her album at the same time that I was working on my book—so many of my memories of the time period that I have constructing this book are alongside going to the studio with Jamila and watching her construct her album.

6. NIGHTS by Frank Ocean

I love this song and this entire album for the way that it feels both very present/modern and very nostalgic. This song is incredible because it’s hard to tell who is the victim and who is the fuckboi—things aren’t clear, which is so much of real life. Frank has this amazing way of writing lyrics that feel like you’re both living in the time period/ emotions he’s writing about, and beyond them. That’s the line I tried to hit with my book— trying to approach my childhood without judgment, celebrating nostalgia, and making room for the present.

7. MOON SHOES by Ravyn Lenae

I love the lyrics to this song. It’s so unsure, it really hits that feeling of being awkward and feeling like an alien in your own skin—like you don’t even know what your emotions are or what they mean. That’s so much of what my book feels like to me, is always feeling like an alien, seeing how other people act and trying to mimic that to seem normal.

8. SOY YO by Bomba Estereo

I put this song on when I want to feel like the shit. It’s such an anthem. The little girl reminds me of me and my friends growing up.

Fatimah Asghar and If They Come for Us links:

the author's website

The Adroit Journal review
Booklist review
Publishers Weekly review

Broadly interview with the author
Chicago Reader profile of the author
HelloGiggles interview with the author
Publishers Weekly interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
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