(Michael Sokolove’s article appeared in The New York Times, 9/7; via Pam Green.)

At the age of 7, Ayad Akhtar, the son of two doctors in suburban Milwaukee, was seized by a religious fervor. He began asking his parents to take him to the one mosque in the area, a converted schoolhouse on the city’s Polish south side that they only occasionally attended. He taught himself to pray, and he saw the Prophet Muhammad in his dreams. One year, on the day in the calendar when some Muslims say all of creation bowed in respect to Muhammad, he stayed up all night, looking out his bedroom window and waiting to see the trees bend. “I don’t know why, but I was a very sensitive kid. I had an acute awareness of splendor,” Mr. Akhtar told me in one of the conversations we had over the summer. “The only thing that really responded to that register of life for me was the Quran — and ‘Star Wars.’”

His devotion to Islam deepened until he reached high school and encountered a teacher who introduced him to the European Modernists: Kafka, Camus and others. Mr. Akhtar, who is now 46, went off to Brown, got a graduate degree in film at Columbia and then spent a big chunk of his early adulthood, six years, writing a novel in the style of his literary heroes. The book was 600-plus pages — and unpublishable. One friend considered it “unbearable.” For Mr. Akhtar, the response was both crushing and liberating: “I just thought, this is tiring, and I’m not even good at it.”

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Photo: WUWM

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