On this extra-juicy, supersized episode of Cutting Chai Stories with Jayati Vora, I interview Zahir Janmohamed about the art of the personal essay. (If his name sounds familiar, it’s because I mentioned him on last week’s episode.) Zahir Janmohamed is a Zell Writing Fellow at the University of Michigan, where he has received awards in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and playwriting. He is currently the artist-in-residence at the Arab American National Museum. Zahir and I go a ways back: I was his editor many moons ago when I was working at Al Jazeera America, and I knew he would have a ton of writing tips for you, and he didn’t disappoint. There are too many gems in this episode to list here, but if you want a handy PDF guide to all the tips he mentioned here, you can grab them here: https://mailchi.mp/e56685294c6b/personalessay As a bonus, I also took some of his tips and created a cheatsheet for you on how to use his writing tips when writing your About Me page, or a social media post, or an email to your list. Grab those here: https://mailchi.mp/8296ca2d0bcb/storytelling-cheatsheet
You can connect with Zahir on Twitter @zahirj and on his website: www.zahirjanmohamed.com And here are his recommendations for reading excellent personal essays: James Baldwin essay: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1962/11/17/letter-from-a-region-in-my-mind Kiese Laymon’s Heavy: https://www.kieselaymon.com/heavy Jesmyn Ward on her husband’s death: https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2020/08/jesmyn-ward-on-husbands-death-and-grief-during-covid Jen Choi on not loving Paris: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/jenhchoi/i-wanted-to-love-paris-but-it-didnt-love-me Viet Thanh Nguyen on didaticism: https://vietnguyen.info/2017/4232 Caroline Paul’s “Fighting Fire”: https://www.carolinepaul.com/fighting-fire Charles D’Ambrosio on doubt: https://tinhouse.com/the-art-of-the-sentence-charles-dambrosio/ “There was and there was not” book: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/25/books/review/there-was-and-there-was-not-by-meline-toumani.html Chris Abani TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/chris_abani_on_humanity?language=en Anelise Chen on being a clam: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2017/04/13/clam-down/ You’ll need Annelise Chen’s essay, above, to do the writing prompt. And if you want to join the free reading at the Arab American National Museum on November 30th, register here: https://arabamericanmuseum.org/event/telling-our-2020-stories-a-live-reading-hosted-by-zahir-janmohamed/?event_date=2020-11-30
Happy reading! And as always, if you liked this show, if you found it useful, please do subscribe and leave me a review. We have over 15,000 listeners so far, and that’s just on Spotify!