Sunday, October 25, 2020
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.