About Michael Muhammad Knight
Books by Michael Muhammad Knight
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Author, Michael Muhammad Knight

Michael Muhammad Knight

About Michael Muhammad Knight

An Interview with Michael Muhammad Knight

More About Michael Muhammad Knight

Michael Muhammad Knight has studied Islam at a madrassa in Pakistan, the Allah School in Harlem, and Harvard University. His work has been censored, boycotted, confiscated, and threatened with legal action. This is his seventh book.

If you pay any attention at all to what writers say--particularly Southern writers--you will inevitably hear them talking about "sense of place," this idea that a region or state or city can so fill your veins that it will bleed its way out in everything you write. Faulkner was that way with Mississippi. You can feel dizzy summer heat in his every line and the long day winding up to sultry night like a drunken boxer. Flannery O'Connor, too. Her Georgia is rich with red clay bluffs and thieving bible salesmen. Their South, and the South of Miss Eudora and William Styron and, more recently, the South of Barry Hannah and Leigh Smith and Marc Richard, to name but a few, is ridiculous and proud and heavy with the past. I don't mean for an instant to consider myself against that list of writers. The comparison only applies in that for the short duration of my writing life I have, consciously or unconsciously, made an effort not to be bound by the place of my birth. Of the ten stories in my collection five are set in Alabama, only three in Mobile. The writers I admired in college-- Richard Ford, Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff--had an uncanny knack for avoiding place or at least for swinging so gracefully around the country and the world as to make the importance of any one place negligible. The people were the thing. And the words themselves, precisely chosen, not a breath wasted. That's what I wanted from my writing. Simple clarity. The magic of ordinary lives and loves. Now, writing this piece, I've come to realize that I have been a miserable failure at shaking my roots. Dorthea Brande once wrote that, "No one was born in just that place, of just those parents, at just that moment in history. No one has the exact set of ideas that you must have. If you can come to describe the world as only you, out of all the people on earth, can possibly see it, then you will inevitably have a piece of writing which is original." Her words have always been a reassurance for me, eased my conscience a little about all this and convinced me that I might, after all, have something to say. I was born at the old Mobile Infirmary in December of 1969. Both of my parents grew up in Mobile, went to school and fell in love and learned most of what they know about the world in the space between Hatter's Pond and Mobile Bay. The country was in tumult then, crazy with Vietnam and student protests and race riots, but I have been told that Mobile maintained a smooth veneer in the face of history. Mardi Gras came and went without a hitch. A cousin of mine was king that year. My father, who gave me his name, was practicing law and times were good enough, at least, that just three years later my mother was pregnant with her second child, Rosemary, named for our grandmother. One of my uncles was shipped off to Vietnam-though he made it back alive, thank God-and I had two aunts in college during the early seventies, but I never have had a sense that this time was more or less trying than any other. The stories I heard growing up were about the family, stories which, for the most part, had happy endings. The stories were told, too, by the buildings and neighborhoods that I remember and the people, of course. At my sister's wedding a few years ago, I heard about the secret Christmas Eves of my childhood. After I was long gone off to hide in my room and feign sleep so that Santa Claus wouldn't pass me over, the men in the neighborhood would carry drinks out into the street and sit on the curb and swap jokes about the twenty thousand screws it took to build a swing set. The punch line was that there were dozens of screws left over and the swing set was standing fine. I can imagine them out there, their voices hushed so as not to wake the children, the ice in their drinks ticking like sailboat rigging, the winter sky so clear that the stars seemed closer to the ground. Those images, among others, pop up in Divining Rod. The original conceit for the novel grew out of a story my father once told me about an old woman and her divining rod. In Dogfight, you will find the shipyard where I worked as a teenager, a burned-out house I once came across, and all the many dogs of my youth in one fictionalized form or another. That's what I've carried away from home. Images, full of ordinary magic. And whatever quality it is that keeps the eddies of trouble swirling beneath the surface. And the rhythm of voices. And metaphor. Every river that I write smells like the river where I grew up. Every girl in my stories knows the secrets that the girls of my boyhood knew. I've been told that one of my characters is the spitting image of my maternal grandfather, though he died when I was eight years old and I have very little conscious memory of him. Maybe he's in the back of my mind somewhere along with all those stories. I didn't mean to bring him alive again in fiction, but if it's true, I hope that I have done it well. Find Books by Michael Muhammad Knight

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