Biography in Brief
I was born in 1948, in Kabul, Afghanistan to an Afghan father and an American mother and 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 who, by this time, was somehow also 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, and I could of some use there, for I knew things that were relevant, and I knew how to tell people what I knew: I had after all 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 my preoccupation wasn’t 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. I was pondering the fact that 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 write, and over the next six years I wrote a book I have just finished and will release on October 1, 2019: The Invention of Yesterday, A 50,000 Year History of Human Culture, Conflict, and Connection.