Tamim Ansary

I was born in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1948, to an Afghan father and an American mother, and I lived in Afghanistan until I was 16.Then I came to the United States to go to school and never went back. I spent the roaring sixties and the early seventies in Portland, Oregon, part of a counterculture newspaper collective that published a weekly tabloid called The Scribe.I left the counterculture to join the Asia Foundation. where I helped edit a bi-weekly publication about Asian culture and politics, mainly for Asian scholars in America. And from there…I drifted on….into textbook publishing …… editing programs in history, social studies, reading, language arts…… and then swam on…… to write nonfiction books for children and “hi-interest/low-readability” fiction for teens …And then I was writing a column about almost anything that struck my fancy, for Encarta.com, MSN’s “learning” site: I was still an educator, but one who wrote fiction on the side and was, by this time, somehow, running the San Francisco Writer’s Workshop, a venerable workshop founded two years before my birth.
Then came 9/11. The day after that horrific event, I wrote an email to some 20 friends. I was the only person any of them had ever met from Afghanistan, so I knew they’d all be asking my opinion. And I knew I’d be giving all of them pretty much the same answer, so I figured why not write one email to them all. That email was 900 words long, and it went viral: it reached tens of millions within four days. By the following Monday, my career had utterly and permanently changed. People wanted to know about Islam and Afghanistan; I knew some relevant things , and I knew how to tell people what I knew:, having spent years honing my craft as a writer and storyteller Suddenly I was delivering talks to crowds, doing a radio show about Islamic history, writing essays, books…As a writer, however, I came to realize that what interested me was not just Afghanistan-and-America, or Islam-and-the-West These were but aspects of a broader issue. I was interested in what happens in zones where cultures overlap. My two memoirs explored that question at the level of one individual life (mine). My history of Afghanistan explored that same question at the level of one entire country. My history of the world through Islamic eyes explored it at the scale of whole civilizations.I wrote that history of the world to remind myself that the world looks different from different perspectives. My latest book takes that preoccupation further. The world is full of differing perspectives and they’ve been jostling one another throughout recorded history. I got to wondering if there was a story to be discerned in all that jostling. When that question came into focus for me, I sat down to see if I could tease out that story. Over the next six years I wrote a book that was released on October 1, 2019: The Invention of Yesterday, A 50,000 Year History of Human Culture, Conflict, and Connection.

 

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