This Dallas writer started a publishing house and festival to spotlight Muslim authorsThis Dallas writer started a publishing house and festival to spotlight Muslim authors
on Jul 15, 2021
Papatia Feauxzar was worried her son would grow up without any books about boys like him.
Her son is multiracial and, like his mother, from a Muslim background. Popular young adult novels like the Harry Potter series, no matter how enjoyable, aren’t reflective of their background.Rather than making do with what was available, Feauxzar created her own publishing house. Djarabi Kitabs Publishing, which launched in 2013, supports and publishes Muslim authors in a range of genres, from children’s literature to cookbooks. “Djarabi” means love and is a common pet name in Mandinka, a West African language. “Kitab” means book in Arabic.
Feauxzar is carving out spaces for Muslim writers in an industry that hasn’t always been kind to them. Muslims have been subject to harmful stereotypes in the media, and many publishers aren’t open to stories that challenge that narrative.
Her projects to support Muslim authors have only grown since 2013. Last year, Feauxzar initiated a virtual festival celebrating the work of Muslim authors and creatives from all over the world.
“A crazy idea,” some called it, according to Feauxzar. But a successful one, as this summer the festival will be returning for a second run. Authors will participate in panels, workshops and readings. Feauxzar will then compile these prerecorded segments into a video that readers and writers can view starting July 17.
A storyteller at heart
Feauxzar is a storyteller herself. In fact, “Papatia Feauxzar” is a pen name; the author’s real name is only known to her family, friends and a trusted few in the publishing business. She’s written multiple books under the pseudonym, including romance novels.
She said she uses the pen name to avoid backlash against some of these books. Her romance novels deal openly with sexuality and intimacy in marriage, which is frowned upon by some members of Feauxzar’s community.
Writing and publishing are things Feauxzar does in her spare time. By trade, she’s an accountant.
Feauxzar said her parents didn’t support an “unconventional” career like writing. She briefly studied pharmacy and later obtained a master’s degree in accounting. But her love of storytelling never went away. A co-worker’s husband at her first accounting job was familiar with the publishing industry and guided her through her first book.
Brooke Benoit, a fellow Muslim writer who edited some of Feauxzar’s early work, said Feauxzar’s novels confronted topics like intimacy that were largely untouched in Muslim publishing prior to then. Her work shocked some readers “even though it was so needed,” Benoit said.
Feauxzar wasn’t satisfied with publishing just her own stories, however, and wanted to give back to fellow writers in her community who were struggling to get their work published. “What’s the point of me only sharing my own stories,” she said, “when there are people who want to be in my shoes?”
Djarabi Kitabs Publishing and the book festival are two of her responses to that question. On top of that, Feauxzar also runs an online store with book subscription packages and coffee products called Fofky’s, as well as an annual readers’ choice awards to offer readers a way to give back to writers.
Muslim authors in publishing
From her home in Sweden, novelist and poet Rumki Chowdhury participated in last year’s virtual book festival via a short video workshop on overcoming writer’s block. This year, she delivered another workshop on editing and read an excerpt from her upcoming book. She has appreciated the opportunity to meet other writers coming from similar backgrounds the past two years.
“You can relate on so many levels,” Chowdhury said, “and exchange ideas, as well.”
Participating authors value the opportunity to connect not only with one another but also with a broader audience.
Zeeshan Shah is a holistic health coach and wellness blogger from Houston. For last year’s festival, she made a video with a recipe tutorial and participated in an e-book giveaway. Like Feauxzar, she wants to give back to her community. She said the festival allowed her to do just that, connecting with South Asian women over how to lead healthier lives.
The festival participants celebrate one another as fellow Muslim artists. Still, some hesitate to label their work as Muslim.
Shereen Malherbe, a novelist based in the United Kingdom who is participating in the festival this year, said this label is part of what has created barriers for her in the publishing industry in the past.
Her first novel, Jasmine Falling, largely takes place in Palestine. When she approached publishers in the U.K. about her story, they were skeptical of how broadly it could appeal to non-Muslim readers, and they turned her down.
“I was trying to get a story out there that to me is universal, but it was automatically sort of pigeonholed as Muslim fiction,” Malherbe said.
Chowdhury has also felt like she has fought extra hard to get noticed in the publishing world, even when she’s writing in popular genres like romantic comedy, due to her Muslim background. The festival, on the other hand, offers a strong counterpoint to these negative perceptions.
“We’re individuals, just like anyone else. … It doesn’t matter what I have on my head,” said Chowdhury, who wears a hijab. “I’m still just like you.”
Feauxzar hopes the Djarabi Kitabs Publishing catalog and festival will continue to expand the Muslim literature canon. For now, though, she’s content with how these projects have already expanded her son’s options as a reader.
“When he grows up … he can read these books and be like ‘Oh, my goodness, I feel awesome. I have a book that I can relate to.’”Source- Dallasnews