Ayad Akhtar’s play Disgraced won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013—and also attracted a great deal of controversy, when its main character, a Pakistani American, admits to feeling a “blush of pride” in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. In Homeland Elegies, his new work of autofiction, Akhtar returns to this theme, among many others, in the context of a powerful and poignant consideration of what it means to be Muslim in America today. Akhtar frames much of the novel through the relationship between himself and his Pakistani immigrant father, a doctor who once treated Trump in the 1990s and has embraced Trump's version of America ever since, following a trajectory from farce to pathos. The son, born on Staten Island, traces his often complicated personal, philosophical, and political stance toward an America that he regards as home but that insists on viewing him—and often compelling him to see himself—as Other. Akhtar’s novel opens with an “overture” and ends with a “coda” that circles back to ideals of free speech, campus culture, and that controversial moment in Disgraced, so it’s fitting that at this closing session for BBF 2020, he’ll be interviewed by PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel, whose own new book Dare to Speak champions free expression and vigorous, democratic debate. Sponsored by the Landry Family Foundation.
Ayad Akhtar is a playwright, novelist, screenwriter, and Pulitzer Prize winner. He has received two Tony Award nominations, a Steinberg Playwright Award, and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His books include American Dervish, which was named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews, Shelf Awareness, and O, the Oprah Magazine. Akhtar’s latest book, Homeland Elegies: A Novel, tells a personal story of longing and dispossession in post-Trump America. Homeland Elegies has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. Joshua Ferris calls it “a triumph… Akhtar transmutes injustice into the sublimest art.”
Suzanne Nossel is a human rights advocate, former government official, writer, and CEO of PEN America. Her op-eds have been featured in the New York Times, Politico, and the Guardian among other publications. In 2004 she coined the term “Smart Power,” which Hillary Clinton used to guide her tenure in office. Nossel’s first book, Presumed Equal: What America’s Top Women Lawyers Really Think About Their Firms, was co-authored with Elizabeth Westfall and reports the true feelings of American women lawyers in their firms. Her latest book, Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All, provides a pathway for promoting free expression while also cultivating a more inclusive public culture. Margaret Atwood says, “This brave, wise, succinct book is a must-read.”