An unexpected turn led Hena Khan (M.A.’97) from her career as international development consultant to successful children’s author. Khan says she recognized the work she enjoyed the most had a strong writing component, but never dreamed of becoming a published author. “I always gravitated towards the communications projects — annual reports, briefings. I liked the challenge of writing up presentations in ways that made them more accessible to the public,” Khan recalls.
Khan’s leap to children’s literature was serendipitous. Seeking more career flexibility to accommodate her growing family, she switched from working full-time to consulting. With more free time, she agreed to help a friend who was struggling to finish a book series for Scholastic, the children’s book publisher. Khan was so good at it, she eventually became a steady writer for the popular Scholastic series, “Spy University.”
Khan’s first trade book, Night of the Moon, was published in 2008 followed by Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns in 2012. All the while, Khan continued to consult for the development and health sector. In her own words, despite her commercial success as an author, she suffered from “imposters syndrome.” It wasn’t until she was approached by HMH Books for Young Readers and asked to collaborate on a project that was to become her most well-known, It’s Ramadan, Curious George (2016), that she felt like a real author.
Many of Khan’s books center on young Muslims growing up in America. The stories include explanations of the customs and traditions of Islam. “I saw a lack of Muslim literature for kids and realized there was a gap,” Khan says. She recalls that, “growing up in America there was nothing like the kind of mainstream children’s literature I write told from the perspective of a young Muslim. I think it’s an important time to be out there and presenting these ideas and sharing them with schools and libraries and panels. It’s an important use of my time and my skills.”
Hena Khan’s latest book, Amina’s Voice, will be available on March 14, 2017, the first publication of Simon & Schuster’s groundbreaking new imprint Salaam Reads, which focuses on books about Muslims. For more information, visit www.henakhan.com/.
Join the Elliott School on April 26 for a conversation with Khan about her experiences writing books that represent American Muslims, promote understanding, and build tolerance and compassion. For more information and to register, visit go.gwu.edu/HenaKhan.
-Originally published on Elliott School website