Fatimah Asghar wins Carol Shields Fiction Prize for “When We Were Sisters”

Fatimah Asghar wins Carol Shields Fiction Prize for “When We Were Sisters”

Poet and writer Fatimah Asghar is the first winner of the Carol Shields Prize for Fiction for their debut novel “When We Were Sisters.” The novel is a coming-of-age story about three orphaned Muslim American siblings who are left to be raised by each other after their parents’ death. 

Created in 2022, the Carol Shields Prize was developed to level the playing field in literary prizes for women and non-binary authors. The award is 150,000 Canadian dollars, about $113,000 for a work of fiction published by a woman or nonbinary person, and Asghar was the first winner. The jury commended Asghar for their novel in their citation, stating that “Asghar’s novel is a tour de force, at once stirring and beautiful, breathtaking in its lyricism, and head-turning in its experimentations.”

Speaking about their identity as a writer, Asghar told NPR’s Scott Simon in 2022, “When I first started to make art, there was so much resistance I got from people who were like, but this isn’t what we think of a story from somebody who we think looks like you,” she said. “And I was like, yeah, I know, but this is the story I’m telling, and this is the story I want to tell. … I think for me, it’s really about getting as many stories as we possibly can so that we can be very honest about what human relationships look like.”

Asghar is a poet, fiction writer and filmmaker. They wrote for “Ms. Marvel” episode 5, “Time and Again.,” which tells the story of the Partition of British India into India and East and West Pakistan. Asghar is Kashmiri and Pakistani, and their first book of poems “If They Come for Us” explored themes of family, orphanhood, Partition, borders and shifting identity. Along with Safia Elhillo, they also co-edited “The Breakbeat Poets Vol. 3: Halal If You Hear Me,” an anthology for Muslims who are women, trans, gender non-conforming and/or queer. 

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