American Muslim writers: An interview with G. Willow Wilson

As a Muslim woman working in comics, author G. Willow Wilson breathes rarified air in a traditionally male-dominated industry. First coming to prominence with the 2007 DC Comics graphic novel Cairo (illustrated by M.K. Perker), a fantasy story informed by the author’s own time living in Egypt, she has continued to offer insights in her writing reflective of her unique lived experiences, whether via DC’s Superman and Vixen, Mystic for Marvel, or her own 2008-2010 Vertigo series Air.
However, Wilson’s most profoundly personal work to date has surely been The Butterfly Mosque, a prose account of how she found Islam that was released last year to much acclaim.

Altmuslimah recently had the opportunity to chat with Willow about her experiences promoting Butterfly Mosque across the US, the reactions she’s encountered, and what she has coming up in the pipeline. Here’s our conversation:

 What has the general reaction been as you’ve gone around the country with The Butterfly Mosque?

The reaction has been very positive. I’ve gotten great feedback at the readings I’ve done around the country. I keep expecting a really snarky Islamophobe to show up and shout me down, but it’s never happened. Which is not to say I haven’t gotten questions challenging my presentation of Islam, but they’ve been in the spirit of open debate, so I welcome them.

 Any interesting anecdotes you can share, either positive or negative?

There was one young woman I met last year who came up to me after a signing on the verge of tears, and said reading Butterfly Mosque had given her the push she needed to get out of her dead-end job and travel the world. I was really touched, not least because she got something out of the book that went beyond religion or politics to touch on one of the basic urges we all have–the urge to explore.

 Is this a story you’d like to continue telling at some point?

No! No, this is my first and last venture into autobiography, There’s just way too much stress and conflicting interests involved in talking about your own life, largely because you don’t live in isolation–your family and friends and neighbors are part of your experiences, so talking about yourself necessarily means talking about them. And it just gets too tough to do that yet shield people from public scrutiny at the same time.

 As someone who lives there and has family there, what’s your take on the significant political changes in Egypt over the last several months?

Watching the revolution from afar has been tough. Sometimes my husband and I are filled with anxiety over the safety of our loved ones, and other times we get restless because we want to be there to experience all this incredible change. Our daughter was born right at the climax of the uprising, a couple of days before Mubarak stepped down. We joke that she came two weeks early in order not to miss the thawra! At least three people have told us we should have named her Tahrir.

 What’s next for you? Bookwise? Comic-wise?

My first novel, Alif the Unseen, comes out next spring from Grove/Atlantic Press inshallah. We’re editing it now. I’m very, very excited for this book…it focuses on the misadventures of a young computer geek and hacktivist in an unnamed Arab emirate in the run-up to a revolution. I started writing it about a year before the Arab Spring. I thought I was exaggerating by giving hacktivists and bloggers such a central role in politics, but it turned out I wasn’t.

The Butterfly Mosque and Cairo are both available now, as is the new Superman graphic novel “Grounded,” with two stories by Wilson. Look for Mystic at a comic shop near you.

Zaki Hasan is contributing editor for AltMuslimah.

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