A recap of the exciting night written by author Salihah Aakil.
It’s official! I Am Night Sky (and Other Reflections by Muslim American Youth), Shout Mouse Press’s newest anthology featuring the stories of Muslim youth from the DMV area has launched. After a year of writing, editing, and rewriting, Next Wave Muslim Initiative’s youth authors presented their book I Am The Night Sky to an audience full of friends, family, readers, and supporters.
The crowd listened closely as artists, Ruqayyah and Fatima, each displayed the work they contributed to the anthology and explained why they created it and what it meant to them. It was clear that what Ruqayyah had said in her earlier interview with BBC Arabic— “I like making people look good” — was true. The art she and Fatima showed displayed truth and passion in both their subjects and themselves.
As the event continued, the audience laughed, cried, and listened closely as the authors and artists told of their journey as Muslims, as authors, and as people. The stage lights shone down on Imaan like the moonbeams she described in her story as she read “The Undergrounders” and told of the refugee crisis and why she wrote about it. Noor read poetry that explored her dual identity:“On the tip of my tongue / lay fourteen words to mean kindness / Sixteen to show love / and ninety-nine to describe God.” She let each word sink in after she spoke it.
As the Q&A began, the authors’ personalities, spirit, and drive started to shine through more than ever. When asked about navigating the world as a Muslim American young person, Sasa, one of the authors, spoke about honesty and presenting your true self, “no edits, cover-ups, or watering down.” She said, “Be firm in who you’ve decided you want to be. Because you’ll find the best people like that, and find the best in yourself.”
Iman told the audience and her fellow youth that, “It's perfectly normal to have these two different sides [of your identity],” and that they need not feel ashamed.
As the night wound down, the room was increasingly filled with pride, warmth, and joy. The authors, artists, and audience felt fulfilled in what they had done and proud to call each other home. An audience member told the authors, “First of all, I loved how honest you were with your feelings. It is hard to do that in society today. I also liked to hear that there are people who go through similar things that I do as a young Muslim American. I hope that you all know that you impacted the lives of so many youth.“ The authors smiled for photos, signed their book, and gasped in delight and astonishment as an audience member presented them each with a signed copy of “19 Varieties of Gazelle” by Naomi Shahid Nye.
The night ended in joy and accomplishment. “It’s so important that we have role models to look up to that are just like us and have people that reflect us in literature,” Imaan S. said when asked why she wrote the book. That night the authors were those role models, and they felt that pride deeply.