Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ayad Akhtar delivered a lecture entitled “American Dervish: Muslim American Culture and Family Life” on Monday, Nov. 10. The lecture was part of the Neilly Series hosted by River Campus Libraries.

Akhtar attended UR during the 1989-1990 school year before transferring to Brown University, where he finished his degree in theater. Akhtar was introduced by Professor of Religion Emil Homerin. Homerin had Akhtar as a student in the first class he taught at the University, REL 107: History of Islam. Akhtar also participated in theater at UR.

Akhtar was born in 1970 in Staten Island to Pakistani immigrant parents and grew up in a suburb of Milwaukee. Akhtar said that his experience growing up as a Muslim American led him “to see more and more deeply how American that experience is.” He said he believes that he encompasses the two Americas: the Enlightenment’s scientific method and the religious experience. However, Akhtar doesn’t think he fits “in any one category.”

Akhtar won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his stage play “Disgraced,” which is currently on Broadway. The play portrays an argument about Islam between a Pakistani-American and his friends at a dinner party. Performances of the show on- and off-Broadway have starred actors such as Aasif Mandvi of “The Daily Show” and Josh Radnor of “How I Met Your Mother.” Akhtar has also written and starred in a film, “The War Within,” which he wrote while at Columbia Film School.

Akhtar read from his 2012 book “American Dervish,” about a Pakistani-American boy in the suburbs of Milwaukee who learns about Islam from an older woman for whom he begins to lust. The first passage Akhtar read depicts the main character, Hayat Shah, having a revelation as he looks up at the sun while trying to catch a football during recess. His second reading was an excerpt from a conversation between Hayat and his mother, who teaches Hayat about the differences between Muslim men and women.

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