I am a writer, lecturer, editor, and teacher based in San Francisco. I direct the San Francisco Writer's Workshop, teach sporadically through the Osher Institute, and write fiction and nonfiction about Afghanistan, Islam-and-the-West, democracy, education, history, current events, social issues, my cat, and other topics as they come up.
I was born in 1948, in Kabul, Afghanistan. My father worked as a professor at Kabul University and my mother-the first American woman to marry an Afghan and live in Afghanistan-taught English at the country's first girls' schools. We Ansaries hailed from the village of Deh Yahya, about 20 miles from the city. Our ancestor Sa'duddin, an 18th century mystic, is buried near that village and his tomb attracts hundreds of Sufi devotees to this day. Our family also traces its ancestry further back, to a pair of Arab brothers who allegedly conquered Kabul for Islam in the 8th century. Their graves can still be seen on a hillside high above the city: two spooky 12-foot-long stone tombs, side-by-side, surrounded by weeds and tall grass that teems with feral cats and (some say) djinns.
In the mid-fifties, my family moved to the tiny government-built town of Lashkargah, in the country's southwestern desert. Today, that area is the heart of the Talibinist insurgency. Back then, it was the nerve center for the country's biggest American-funded development project, a vast complex of dams, canals, and experimental farms, which my father helped to run.
When I left Afghanistan in 1964, the country was still a tranquil backwater. I finished high school and college in the United States, then plunged into the post-sixties counterculture like a dog into surf. I worked for a collectively-owned newspaper called the Portland Scribe and dreamed of building a new world, a dream which ( you may have noticed) came to nothing. Later, just as Khomeini was seizing power in Iran, I traveled in North Africa and Turkey, looking for Islam, and found Islamism instead. Unnerved and exhausted, I returned to San Francisco, married the love of my life, and settled into a quiet life of editing and writing children's books, textbooks, fiction, magazine articles, and a column for the late, great Microsoft learning site Encarta.
Then came September 11, 2001. The day after those airplanes brought down the twin towers, an email I wrote to a few friends went viral on the Internet, and I found myself derailed from my previous career (whatever that was) into speaking for Afghanistan and trying to interpret the Islamic world for the West-because at the time there was no one else to do it. In my memoir West of Kabul, East of New York, I depicted how it was to grow up straddling these two vastly disparate cultures-Afghanistan and America. Last year, I published Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, and more recently The Widow's Husband, a historical novel set in Afghanistan in 1841.
Crescent Moon: World History Through Islamic Eyes (2009, Public Affairs)
Snapshots: This Afghan American Life (anthology by young Afghan Americans, edited and produced by Ansary and Yalda Asmatey, April, 2008)
Farrar Strauss Giroux, SImon and Schuster, Heinemann, J. Weston Walch
Help the Afghan Children
Doctors Without Borders
Afghan Friends Network
La Casa de las Madres
American Friends Service Committee
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