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Author Kamali speaks at Needham Library

By Cameron Small
Hometown Weekly Correspondent

This past Sunday, the Needham Free Public Library, in partnership with the Friends of the Needham Library, hosted award-nominated author Marjan Kamali. Kamali spoke about her writing journey, provided writing tips, read a passage from her latest novel, and held a Q&A session prior to signing books.

Kamali’s first novel, "Together Tea" was a Massachusetts Book Award Finalist and was translated into six languages. Her most recent novel, "The Stationery Shop", won the 2022 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship. "The Stationery Shop" is currently being translated into 20 languages, and according to the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship website, is being turned into an HBO TV series. Per the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship, "Together Tea" is also in the process of being adapted for the stage.

Marjan Kamali was born in Turkey to Iranian parents. Throughout her childhood and her adult life, Kamali has lived in Turkey, Iran, Germany, Kenya, the United States, and Australia. Both of her novels revolve around a curiosity with Iranian culture, as most of her experience with Iranian culture comes through the food her mother would cook. A third novel in the works also tells the story of an Iranian-American woman. 

“I remain curious about Iran and I might remain curious about Iran ’til the day I die. But the minute I'm no longer curious about Iran, I'm not going to write about it. Because if I'm not into it, you won't be. I've written about Iran mostly because I grew up not there. I grew up with parents who had a version of Iran that seemed very different from what I saw on TV, and it's a land of contradictions with a very rich history, right? And so I feel like there's a lot to explore. But if I'm interested in something else, I would hope that I’d be given the permission by my corporate overlords to write about that,” Kamali said when asked whether all of her books would be about Iran, Iranian culture, and her experience as an Iranian-American.

For any aspiring novelists out there, here are Kamali’s seven writing tips, truncated: accept that it is never going to be a good time; break it into chunks; write out first drafts by hand; make it fun and include your family and loved ones; do not do it for yourself; take your writing seriously; and remember that we are the lucky ones.

Kamali’s family was in Iran in 1980 when Saddam Hussein invaded. Books were Kamali’s haven in bomb shelters, and she feels an immense amount of luck and survivor's guilt for being one of the ones who made it out.

If you were unfortunate to miss Kamali speak, the Friends of the Needham Library are hosting author Catherine Marenghi in January. Be sure to register in advance to attend, and to keep an eye on the Needham Library events calendar.

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