Papatia Feauxzar: Assalamu aleikum Umm Juwayriyah. Welcome to Hayati Magazine. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Umm Juwayriyah: Wa alykum as salam wa rahmatullah.
Umm Juwayriyah (Maryam A.Sullivan) is a native of Springfield, Massachusetts and is a second generation American Muslim international educator, business owner, playwright, and storyteller. She holds a Bachelor’s degree with honors from Bay Path University, a Masters of Arts degree with honors from Regis University, and is currently a doctoral student.
She is the author of Tried & Tested, The Size of a Mustard Seed, Hind’s Hands ~ A Story About Autism, and The Princess and the Good Deed. Umm Juwayriyah was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and is a recipient of the Lorraine Hansberry Award from Holyoke Community College and a Spirit Award from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.
Her writing and short stories were featured in Muslim and non-Muslim publications around the world. She is also the Editor-in-Chief for the New England Muslim Women’s Association and the founder of the literary initiative #MuslimGirlsRead, a campaign to promote reading among Muslim girls in inner-cities and around the world.
PF: Masha’Allah impressive. Barakallahu feek. Congratulations on your second novel being published! Please tell us you’re working on another Cover Pearl Series, Book 2 perhaps?
UJ: Thank-you! Alhamduleelah, ala kulli hal. I know everyone is waiting on Covered Pearls. Honestly, it just isn’t their time yet. But I can give you this exclusive tidbit – I am about 100,000 words into my third novel. The novel is kinda a spin-off of The Size of a Mustard Seed. The main character is one of the characters that frequented the Covered Pearls hair salon that I was intrigued by. The good news is that several of the Covered Pearls crew – including Jameelah Salih – will make some cameos in this new novel in a big way that will kinda drop some hints and clues to the new storyline for the CPs (Covered Pearls), enshallah.
PF: I see. May Allah give you the time to finish the spin-off and third novel insha’Allah. Now, you have an online book launch for Tried and Tested coming soon insha’Allah. Can you please tell us more about it and how interested readers can attend?
UJ: Yes, April 24th is the official book launch and online book chat for Tried & Tested that anyone can attend for free by joining my Facebook page at 6 pm EST. I have never really had a release event so I decided that doing one virtually would give all of my readers and even those who haven’t read any of my work to get to know me, talk about the book, and for me to field questions as well. On April 1st I am going to release some discussion questions for Tried & Tested so as people are reading the book they can start ruminating over the questions and come to the book release ready to engage in conversation, reflect, and break down some of the heavier themes, enshallah.
PF: Insha’Allah, your book will be a great turn out and without giving out too many details about Tried & Tested, I will give you my thoughts on your entertaining characters.
So I really enjoyed reading your newest craft masha’Allah. Without doubt, your stories always share a strong sense of community involvement and support. It takes a village indeed. Tried and Tested made me even miss my birth country because our gatherings are very similar to the ones you describe in your books so alhamdullilah for being able to relate to this tale that way. The characters are very real and engaging. I really loved their voices that you stayed true to. It was elegant and the pace of the novel was smooth.
Iman, the main character, is surrounded by crazy, fun, and loving personalities. Hassan was fun to read. Ameera too. She’s my girl! Mateo though, I feel like he will always have something up his sleeves. A villain alright. Will he be making a small appearance in your next works insha’Allah?
UJ: Mateo is very interesting and I feel strongly that he will resurface again, somewhere soon, enshallah. His story isn’t done yet. He will need a lot of help to raise Danny alone.
PF: Where can the readers buy a copy of Tried & Tested and your other works?
UJ: All of my books can be purchased through Amazon.com. The Kindle version should be available by April 1st. Also, all of my books can be requested at your local city and college libraries as well and that is great way to spread Muslim fiction in the West.
PF: Awesome, good to know. This will greatly help #MuslimShelfSpace insha’Allah.
As an indie author who has been traditionally published before, what advice do you give to new writers about each option?
UJ: I am actually not an indie author. I am still published traditionally. I was signed back in the early 2000’s to Muslim Writers Publishing by Sister Widad Delgado through my close work with her as the assistant director of the Islamic Writers Alliance. However, Muslim Writers Publishing had a parent company. When MWP folded, their parent company (a non-Muslim owned small press) offered me a contract that included the founding of my imprint, As Sabr Publications. I own As Sabr Publications and publish through it, but all of my back end work still goes the parent company.
PF: I see. Muslim writers can always do istikhara to pick the best option insha’Allah. Alhamdullilah for the doors that close and the doors that open to show us His support, ameen. Now, tell us more about Iman, the main character in Tried & Tested. What is the motivation behind writing the book and why is it different from other books out there?
UJ: I was motivated to craft this story because I couldn’t find this type of story about inner-city indigenous Muslims on the bookshelves. As an avid reader and lover of books, I write my stories first for myself to read but I also write with the intentions of reaching a variety of readers. Iman is the type of character that everyone wants to win and overcome her trials. Iman and her family are classic dark horses dealing with all of the trials and tests of life that so many of us today encounter: addictions, mental health issues, family discord, domestic violence, divorce, and incarceration. Iman is strong some times and other times she is weak and afraid. She cries, she hurts, and she believes, she has faith in Allah – she has monsters, she has urges, she has love, she has support. But some days, it’s all too much or it isn’t enough at all. Regardless of faith or ethnicity, I think people will understand the theme that we are all being tried and tested and will enshallah be able to reflect and connect with someone in this story and be inspired. Overall, my hope is that people will see that this as a fresh storyline with an authentic look at faith, family life, and relationships among indigenous Muslims in America.
PF: I can vouch for the fact that it’s authentic and full of surprises. I really liked the fact that you addressed domestic violence and incarceration in a way that’s not normally done. Bravo, masha’Allah! I have witnessed many of these othering scenarios that don’t always come to light. In all, redemption is not below the believer. All your characters pull through alhamdullilah because they know being tested is a faith requirement. And we should all remember that more than we actually do. Everybody has a struggle they are fighting and the attitude of Muneerah is one I greatly admired. Every family needs a person like her who will tell you to mind your own business and issues instead of meddling in others’ affairs because that is what Sunnah is and the right thing to do. Masha’Allah we need more real books like yours with Islam delicately weaved in to anchor forward urban and Muslim fiction insha’Allah. You characters often have Latino and Hispanic ties. Out of curiosity, what other languages do you speak fluently besides English?
UJ: I grew up in a very diverse Muslim community, Alhamduleelah. Latinos are an emerging ethnic group with a rich culture and history in the United States. However, Latinos have always been a part of the Muslim inner-city communities as well and I think it is important for them to be represented in urban Muslim fiction and other Muslim literature. Besides that, I love studying languages and took Spanish and Arabic courses in undergrad and continue to study those languages through my travels.
PF: Masha’Allah that’s good that you’re lifetime student. And true, Latinos and Hispanic have a rich Muslim heritage that’s often discounted. They need to be represented in Muslim literature more. Okay, jazakh’Allah khair for taking the time to answer our questions Umm Juwayriyah. The team at Hayati Magazine and I wish you great success with the promotion of Tried & Tested, the book launch, and the book sales insha’Allah, ameen. Please share with us your social media links so our readers can get to know you better.
UJ: Wa iyyaki wa barak’Allahu feeki. Allahumma ameen. Shukran for continuing to support literacy and especially Muslim fiction in the ummah! Folks can check me out on:
YouTube: Author Umm Juwayriyah
PF: Wa feekum barakAllah. Masalam.
UJ: Wa alykum as salam