The shelves lining Ausma Zehanat Khan’s study hold her biography in books.
There’s the leather-bound set of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle titles that her father, himself more inclined to poetry, gave her when she was a teenager. Harry Potter and Terry Brooks epics. Studies of the Quran and human rights reports. And copies of her own books: well-regarded mysteries featuring a Canadian detective who is Muslim and his hockey-playing woman partner, as well as the first part of a fantasy series steeped in Islamic culture.
Khan, the British-born child of Pakistani immigrants, was raised in Canada and is a newly minted US citizen. She explores themes of identity and exclusion, bringing imagination and perspective to the current — and sometimes contentious — global conversation about faith and diversity.
“There’s a thread of continuity in all the work that I’ve done, which is to claim a space for marginalized voices and allow them to speak for themselves,” Khan says.
That work began not as a writer, but as a legal scholar and lawyer. Khan, 49, published her first book just four years ago. Her impressive output since then, which includes a short story featuring her detectives and a nonfiction children’s book about Ramadan, might attest to pent-up creative energy she’s had since she was a teenager. Early on, she tried her hand at poetry and then a Terry Brooks-style fantasy, and in college, she published a few short stories.
Khan grew up hearing Urdu poets reciting at her home in salons hosted by her parents, who encouraged her writing as a hobby. But her homemaker mother and psychiatrist father wanted her to be a doctor. Immigrants of their generation were “very concerned with financial security,” Khan says, adding with fond amusement that she found that “a little bit ironic because they all come from a culture that venerates literature.”