An Immigration Story with Sana Rafi

I’m thrilled to have fellow #TeamJames author Sana Rafi on the blog today. Sana’s debut, Little Seeds of Promise, which is beautifully illustrated by Renia Metallinou, comes out TOMORROW from Innovation Press. (Woohoo!) Read on for Sana’s story inspiration, writing tips, and an impressive list of all the places the she’s lived!

LITTLE SEEDS OF PROMISE book cover.
Isn’t this cover stunning?!

LL: Welcome, Sana, and congratulations on your debut! Little Seeds of Promise tells the story of Maya, a young girl who feels lonely and lost when she moves to another country. Tell us more about what inspired you to write this story.

SR: Thanks, Laura for featuring me on your blog. I emigrated to Switzerland from Pakistan when I was thirteen years old. A lot of my writing—especially my debut—is informed by my own personal experience of being an immigrant. As a young child, I remember feeling a sort of a culture shock—I had never been abroad and every single thing seemed to be opposite of what I had known in my homeland.

Before moving, I had lived in a multigenerational home with my paternal grandparents. I missed their warmth every day as an immigrant.

A photo of Sana with her paternal grandfather.
Sana with her paternal grandfather.

SR: While writing Maya’s story, I imagined what it would’ve been like for me to be able to smell my grandma in the air just to feel her presence. She wore a flower called ‘motia’ in her hair and ears, as do many women in South Asia, and that was part of what inspired me to write about the seeds Maya carries with her. Every time I closed my eyes and thought of my grandma, I saw her adorned in those flowers. She always smelled of jasmine. And so, Maya’s story was born.

Interior spread from LITTLE SEEDS OF PROMISE, depicting Maya and her grandmother.
An interior spread of Maya with her grandmother, Nani.

LL: I love that your grandmother inspired part of this story—grandparents are so very special.

We know how important it is to have books coming out into the world that reflect a child’s identity and experiences. Of course, it’s also important to learn about the experiences of others and build empathy—and books can be a great starting point. What’s your hope for children who read this story?

SR: For those who feel alone, left out or different, I hope those readers of mine find some comfort in Maya’s story. Maya is resilient and brave, as are most immigrants. To give up a life you know for a new one is an act of courage and bravery and my wish is for the readers of this book to get a glimpse of that. I also hope to spark empathy is my readers for all the new kids that come into their schools and neighborhoods.

LL: Speaking of resilience, let’s talk a bit about the writing process. It can be tough for writers to accept critical feedback, period. But it’s especially difficult when the story is close to our hearts. When you were revising this story, were there any moments when you felt torn between reflecting your own lived experience and a nudge from a critique partner or editor to make a change?

Internal spread from LITTLE SEEDS OF PROMISE, featuring the main character, Maya, looking out a window.
Interior spread from Little Seeds of Promise. (Warning: may cause plant envy.)

SR: Initially, there were a ton of editorial comments I worked through for this book. I have to say that most of the time, I accept critique on my creative work as a good sign. It tells me that editors and peers are invested in my work and care about it enough to give me the (sometimes harsh!) feedback I need. Perhaps I developed this thick skin when I enrolled in my MFA program at Columbia University—we received and gave so much feedback that it became rather routine and now it’s just part of my revision process.

LL: I love that. Having a thick skin is definitely a critical skill as a writer!

What practical advice would you give to writers who need to get an important story out and champion it all the way to the finish line?

SR: My biggest advice would be the one I give to myself with each new project: let your first couple drafts be bad. Lower the bar for yourself. I have found that once I do that, I am able to write more freely and actually reach the finish line. Otherwise, I feel immense pressure, and who can be creative and free when tense?

LL: Let’s end with a fun question—tell us all the places you’ve lived, and maybe one thing you either liked or learned in each new place?

A photo of Sana Rafi in Switzerland.
Sana in Switzerland.

SR: I’ve lived in several places including Pakistan where I was born and raised till I turned thirteen. Then I moved to Switzerland for five years and later to the U.S. for college. I also studied abroad in Paris for a semester. Within the U.S. I’ve lived in the Amish town of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, New York City, Chicago, Milwaukee and the Bay Area. Pakistan will always be the first home I ever knew—I liked its energy and liveliness. Switzerland: chocolates. Paris: I liked being able to speak French and eat a baguette daily! And in the U.S. I loved NYC for the people it introduced me to. I met many aspiring writers and dreamers in that city.

LL: Thanks so much for taking the time to share your story, Sana! Readers, if you’d like to order Little Seeds of Promise, you can do so here:

Bookshop: https://bookshop.org/books/little-seeds-of-promise/9781943147939

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Little-Seeds-Promise-Sana-Rafi/dp/1943147930/ref=sr_1_1?crid=13D1UAADSK7L2&dchild=1&keywords=little+seeds+of+promise&qid=1631642836&sprefix=little+seeds+of+%2Caps%2C211&sr=8-1

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/little-seeds-of-promise-sana-rafi/1138718589

…and you can connect with Sana here:

@srafibooks on Twitter and Instagram

Website: www.sanarafi.com

Photo of Sana Rafi.

Sana Rafi is a Muslim American author who received her MFA from Columbia University in New York. She’s passionate about showcasing Muslim and immigrant characters in her books. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading, visiting beaches or being silly with her son and daughter. Rafi currently resides in sunny California but is often found daydreaming of her hometown, Lahore, Pakistan. Find out more at www.sanarafi.com.


Readers! Did you know you can get the inside scoop about upcoming posts on this blog? If you’ve enjoyed reading this interview, you can follow me, Laura Lavoie, on Twitter and/or Instagram: @llavoieauthor, to learn more about upcoming posts.

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