October 12, 2012

Amy Waldman: Conversations from the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference

Amy Waldman

When Amy Waldman, a former reporter for The New York Times, had a brainstorm for a novel about a Muslim architect who wins a competition to design the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero, she shelved it.

But the thought kept coming back, and eight years later, coinciding with the 10th anniversary of 9/11, she published The Submission, the product of that original idea.

The bestselling novel tells the tale of Mohammad "Mo" Khan, a secular Muslim who wins a blind competition to design a memorial honoring victims of a bombing similar to 9/11. When the jury members discover who've they've selected, some try to change the result. But the decision is leaked to the press, resulting in outrage not over the selection of Khan, but over his entry, which includes a garden some think is an Islamic design to honor martyrs.

The outcry is reminiscent of the 2010 controversy over Park51, a planned Islamic community center in New York City near the former Twin Towers. But Waldman had finished the first draft of her book before that story erupted.

Marcia Franklin talks with Waldman about the development of her story line and characters, and why the author never mentions 9/11. The two also discuss the role of memorial design in American discourse and how Waldman modified the book when the Park51 controversy occurred.

The Submission was a finalist for the Hemingway Foundation/PEN First Fiction Award and was a New York Times Notable Book for 2011, one of National Public Radio's Ten Best Novels; Esquire's Book of the Year; Entertainment Weekly's #1 Novel for the Year and one of Amazon's top ten debut fiction books of 2011.

Waldman was a reporter for The New York Times for eight years, three of which were as co-chief of the New Delhi bureau. She was also a national correspondent for The Atlantic. Her next book is a novel about Afghanistan, where she once worked as a reporter.

The interview is part of Dialogue's ongoing "Conversations from the Sun Valley Writers' Conference" and was taped at the 2012 conference. Since 1995, the conference has been bringing together authors to discuss literature and life. Marcia Franklin has interviewed speakers there since 2005. This year's, and previous years', conversations can be found at the Dialogue Sun Valley Writers site.