Sohaila Abdulali was born in Mumbai and moved to the United States with her family when she was a teenager. She has a BA from Brandeis University in economics and sociology and an MA from Stanford University in communication. Her undergraduate thesis dealt with the socio-economics of rape in India. She is the author of two novels as well as children’s books and short stories. She lives in New York with her family.
Her novel, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, was published by Myriad in October 2018.
Interviews and Features
The Week Podcast
‘Sohaila talks about how she told her daughter about, how her own parents normalised rape and that helped her get over what happened to her. She also talks about how she does not want to centre her entire life around that single incident and hopes that more victims are given control to recount their stories in a way they are comfortable with.’
Listen to The Week podcast with Sohaila in full here.
But what does #MeToo have to do with it? Everything
The Hindu Business Line discussed the array of amazing feminists who featured at Jaipur Literature Festival, including Sohaila, Germaine Greer, Mary Beard, Parvati Sharma, Ira Mukhoty, Audrey Truschke and Rana Safvi. Read the full article here.
Rape victim should be made powerful with support from family & friends, says Sohaila Abdulali
According to Abdulali, a rape victim should not be frowned upon, rather be made powerful with support from family and friends and even the close ones should know how to handle the delicate situation.
“Be horrified but don’t fall off your chair that she has to take care of you. Believe her, no ifs, ands, or buts. Let her take the lead, if she wants to talk Ok, if she wants to be quiet Ok. If she wants to cry Ok, If she wants to joke Ok, If she wants to throw things Ok. Ask her what she wants, no need to help.”
“Encourage her to get help—medical, legal, physical mental—but don’t force it. Don’t ask for details but let her know you are open if she wants to elaborate. Don’t question her judgement, let her frame it the way she wants. Don’t try to understand, just be there,” were a few of the ways Abdulali said a situation like rape and the victim’s emotions should be handled.
Read the entire piece here on DNA India.
Sohaila in discussion with K A Johny at Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters
‘I am strongly opposed to capital punishment in any form, for anyone. As for hanging rapists, it just seems stupid to assume that this will change anything, except make a statement that we are a barbaric society. ‘
A brief extract from one of Sohaila’s talks at the Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters 2019.
Sohaila Abdulali at Politics and Prose Bookstore
Sohaila was invited to Politics and Prose bookstore to discuss What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape in front of a live audience. Watch her here.
Sohaila Abdulali on PBS: Victims of sexual violence are more than ‘broken beings’.
‘We need the words. We need to train guys that you should care whether the woman’s into it, and we need to train ourselves that it matters what we want, because words are great, but I think there’s more going on with consent.’
Read the full transcript or watch Sohaila’s interview with Jeffrey Brown on the PBS website.
FLOWERS GROW IN SH*T: TALKING WITH SOHAILA ABDULALI
‘Sohaila Abdulali has no “Shame Gene.” The “brown bisexual middle-aged atheist Muslim survivor immigrant writer,” or so she posits herself in her new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, has struggled for years to understand why so many rape survivors—including herself—are shamed for their silence, for their outspokenness, for their very existence. Abdulali argues she wasn’t born with a “Shame Gene,” thus justifying why she “has the nerve” to write this challenging, nuanced and altogether triumphant book.’
Read the entire interview with Sohaila and Lauren Puckett on The Rumpus here.
‘It’s not a survivor’s duty to cure rape’
‘Then the other thing is — it’s not anybody’s duty to speak. It’s not a survivor’s duty to speak out and cure rape, like an extra added burden on us. I’m finding this now with the book, I love talking about the book, I’m really interested in this topic. But I don’t really feel it’s my role to have the answers.’
Read Sohaila’s full interview with Mary Elizabeth Williams on Salon here.
Sohaila on This is Hell, discussing rape and the conversation about rape.
‘I think it would transform the world [if we were to have sensible conversations about rape], because I think we lose a lot by not talking about it. There are two sides to it – there’s the victim’s side and the perpetrator’s side. On the victim’s side, we lose a lot because as anyone who has been raped knows, it’s really awful to feel alone, like no-one understands you and like there’s no help; just to feel bad about it and to have no recourse. The other thing we do by not talking about it is to give a free pass to rapists, because we act like they don’t exist, or we pretend they’re out there and there’s nothing we can do about it. That way we take away the opportunity to actually do something, to change society, to change how we talk to our kids. I think we lose a lot.’
Listen to the full interview here.
Podcast - Publishers Weekly: Sohaila Abdulali
When Sohaila Abdulali started writing What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, she thought she was writing an “outlying book on an outlying topic.” Then the #MeToo movement happened. Publishers Weekly talked to Abdulali about how the book came to be, what she learned, and how the conversation about rape changed while she was writing it.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape was one of ‘Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2018.Hear the podcast
Recent Books of Interest to Women Scholars
Sohaila’s title, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, was featured in the WIA Report of Recent Books of Interest to Women Scholars. Intrigued which other titles made the list? Have a look here.
The Telegraph article by Sohaila Abdulali
‘Most rapists are men who choose to rape. That counts more than whether their victims are tough or weak, rich or poor – all those factors come into play, but that one choice is at the heart of the matter. And while men from New York to New Delhi make that choice, we all have a rape problem.’
Read Sohaila’s article in The Telegraph here.
Bustle: Taking A Global View of The #MeToo Movement
‘If we can’t stick to our ossified expectations of how we are supposed to behave, then we have to rethink everything we know about male privilege, who gets to say yes and no and stop, and both consent and pleasure. It’s very exciting! It implies being able to rethink and redefine how we conduct ourselves in the world.’
Sohaila in conversation with E CE Miller for Bustle. Read the full article here.
Longreads: Sohaila Abdulali
‘What do people get wrong when they talk about rape?’
‘Oh, everything. For one thing, the idea that women somehow bring it on themselves. I mean, we have countries in the world where that’s kind of the law, right? In Iran, if you show your head and you get raped, then you’re [responsible for] it. And also [the idea] that men can’t help it. Many of the men I know absolutely can help it, and they choose not to do it.
Read the full interview over on the Longreads website here.
Podcast - The Brian Lehrer Show: Sohaila AbdulaliHear the podcast
Publishers Weekly: Sohaila Abdulali Tells Stories of Survivors
‘I wanted this balance: rape is serious but, like everything else in life, you can be light. In fact, part of the whole problem, certainly in India, is that if you’re raped, you’re supposed to be overcome with heaviness and die.’
Read the full article by Publishers Weekly here.
Sohaila discussing What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape.
Electric Lit: A Master Class in Women’s Rage
‘Many of our required reading texts use the author’s personal experience as a starting point for a discussion about larger societal issues. As Abdulali notes, this can make them difficult to categorize properly:
“Essays? Not really. Sociology? Not Learned or Academic enough. Psychology? No, too opinionated. Research? Not comprehensive enough. Memoir? Heaven forbid.”
‘Do you suppose that’s why nonfiction discussing the continued oppression of 51 percent of the world’s population frequently ends up stashed on the “Women’s Studies” shelf in bookstores, as opposed to, say, the “Current Affairs” display?’
Sohaila Abdulali featured on Electric Lit in an article by Kate Harding, discussing how non-fiction, feminist titles end up hidden away and not on the political shelf. Read the entire article here.
BBC World Service: Sohaila Abdulali
‘I got a grant to go back to India and talk about rape, and I think that was one of the most naive things I’ve ever done in my life. I somehow thought I’d show up and find all these people to talk to, who would tell me their stories. In fact, there was a huge amount of denial.’
Sohaila Abdulali on the BBC World Service discussing What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape. Listen again here.
Harper’s Bazaar: Talking About Writing About Rape
‘Just for this lovely moment, I’m living the dream. I’ve spent some months writing a book, had a grand time doing it, and it’s poised to come out all over the world. It might sell; it might not. The dreamy part was working on it, talking to incredible people, typing madly while ignoring the reality that my table is too high and my chair too low and it huts to sit here and why don’t I get a real desk…’
Sohaila discussing What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape in Harper’s Bazaar, Indian- October 2018. You can read the article here: Harper’s Bazaar India, October 2018