S. K. Ali* is the author of Saints and Misfits (Simon & Schuster, 2017), a finalist for the American Library Association’s 2018 William C. Morris award. Her debut novel won critical acclaim for its portrayal of an unapologetic Muslim-American teen’s life. Saints and Misfits was featured on several Best Teen Novels of 2017 lists including from Entertainment Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and the New York Public Library. It was also a CBC Canada Reads 2018 longlist title and featured in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, NBC News, Huffington Post, Salon, Bustle, CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter, The Social, The Morning Show and other North American media.
Sajidah holds a degree in Creative Writing from York University and has written about Muslim life for various outlets, including the Toronto Star and NBC News. Her second novel, Love From A to Z (Simon & Schuster, 2019), a story about finding love in the time of Islamophobia, was a Today Show pick, a Goodreads Readers Choice Nominee and on several best 2019 YA lists, including Kirkus and Entertainment Weekly’s top ten. Love from A to Z was the first YA title chosen to be part of the Today Show’s “Read With Jenna” book club.
Her picture book, The Proudest Blue (Little Brown, 2019), co-authored with Ibtihaj Muhammad, debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list and was featured in the New York Times, NPR, Amazon Editor’s Choice, The Today Show, among other media. Along with We Need Diverse Books co-founder, Aisha Saeed, Sajidah is the co-editor of a Middle Grade anthology called, Once Upon an Eid (Amulet, 2020), winner of the Middle East Book Honor Award and a Kirkus and School Library Journal Best Book of 2020.
S. K. Ali lives in Toronto with her family, which includes a very vocal cat named Yeti.
*first name: Sajidah (Saj-da)
My journey to authordom
Upon making my first paint stroke at the age of four, I fell in love with creating things. I remember that brushstroke vividly because in my excitement I knocked over the jar filled with water. A few times. (Maybe the patient adults who refilled it for me would say it was several times.) Being sopping wet didn’t stop me from wanting to paint the world – at first with pictures, and then, with words.
I also remember clearly the first story I fell (intensely) in love with. It was called Taro and the Tofu by Masako Matsuno and all I wanted to do was read it over and over to re-experience the excitement of Taro running through the cold streets with his pail of tofu sloshing as his conscience rose and fell throughout this story of temptation, trust and honesty. The cozy warmth that Taro returns home to, his Japanese family, spoke right into my heart, due to my similar family life. That instant connection made me a reader.
After meeting Taro, I read non-stop, making my way alphabetically through the shelves in my elementary school library, afraid I’d miss one teeny book if I didn’t.
Then, at the beginning of seventh grade, at the same time that I discovered I could write well (because my teacher told me so!), things took a dark turn.
I discovered horror. My love of reading them. Which led to my love of scaring my sister with my own versions.
So of course I decided to become an author at the tender, gruesome age of eleven going on twelve.
Soon after, I wrote my first complete story, a novella called Sweet Calvin. It featured a child visiting from Australia (the furthest, most exotic location I could think of) who goes on a murderous rampage WITH A RAKE after being bitten by a mouse. (Because, apparently, that’s what mice do to children from Australia.) The story – several pages of non-stop twists and turns written in cursive handwriting that started off neat and ended up nightmarishly blotchy in my haste to get to the grotesque ending – was a hit with my eighth grade class so, yes, my true destiny was revealed.
I wanted to tell stories so badly that I got my degree in Creative Writing as soon as I was released from high school in the 1990’s.
But, as happens often, the detours of life took me away from my dream until 2006, when I re-dedicated myself to my desire to “grow up and become an author”.
Ten years later, I sold my first book, Saints and Misfits.
Now, I don’t want to stop writing.
I believe it’s now time for some
with no discernible connections between them.
I was born in south India but left that lush, beautiful, idyllic place during my terrible threes. Not by my toddler-self of course. My parents and siblings insisted on accompanying me across the oceans to Canada.
One of my favorite words in the entire world is…wait for it…”wee”. As in, that’s a wee little word to be putting all your favoriting-power into! I believe I have some Scottish blood in me.
I call my stories a stitching-together of the threads in our lives that lead to our ah-ha moments. But, yes, on thinking about it, that’s what all stories are.
The first language I learned in school was French.
Here’s a picture of me with shoes too big on picture day in kindergarten.
[all illustrations on website by s. k. ali]