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Fawzia Afzal-Khan is Professor of English, University Distinguished Scholar, and former Director of Women and Gender Studies (now called Gender,Sexuality, and Women's Studies) at Montclair State University. Afzal-Khan received her BA from Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore, Pakistan, and her MA and PHd in English Literature from Tufts University, Ma.
She is a cultural materialist who works at the intersection of Feminist Theory, Cultural and Performance Studies, and Postcolonial Studies. She created and teaches the first course on writings by and about Muslim Women at MSU, and has published extensively on this topic. She is author of 5 books, her latest a controversial memoir entitled Lahore With Love; Growing Up With Girlfriends Pakistani-Style (Syracuse University Press 2010; rep Insanity Ink 2010; can be ordered at amazon). She is a frequent contributor to Counterpunch and Express Tribune, and a published poet and playwright.
She is a Contributing Editor to TDR (The Drama Review), and serves on the Advisory Board of SAR (the South Asian Review), and on the Editorial Board of Arab Stages.
She is also a trained vocalist in the North Indian Classical tradition. Her music videos exploring themes of gender, religion, class , set in Pakistan, can be viewed on youtube (FAK Lahore, FAK Payal, FAK Smokescreen, FAK Sacrifice). She was a founding member of the experimental theatre collective Compagnie Faim de Siecle, with whom she toured and performed in Europe and N America.
Her current research work is focused on Pakistani Popular Culture, with a focus on Pakistani Female Singers. She won an National Endowment of the Humanities grant in 2011 to make a trailer for a documentary on this subject, called "From the Melody Queen to the Muslim Madonna: Pakistani Female Singers 1947-Present" (now renamed: The Nightingales of Pakistan)
She is winner of a Fulbright fellowship to Pakistan for AY 2015-16, and on sabbatical leave for this year.
Third World Postcolonial Literature and Theory
Cultural and Performance Studies
From the Melody Queen to the Muslim Madonna: Pakistani Female Singers 1947-Present
Though largely unheralded and neglected in the history books, Pakistani female singers have made a significant, enduring impact on the Indian subcontinent’s renowned musical pantheon. My proposed book—in conjunction with the documentary film I am also making on this subject, a 14-minute rough cut trailer of which has been completed with the help of an NEH Development Grant--will help give these singers a much-earned historical and contextual visibility, by examining and reflecting upon their musical legacies through a Cultural Studies methodology. This approach will integrate contemporary interviews with current and retired performers and industry representatives, studies of live performances/concerts, a cultural and political analysis of archived television music shows that launched the careers of some of Pakistan’s most famous female singers such as the long-lasting PTV music show for kids called Kaliyon Ki Mala (Music Rainbow) produced and directed by famed music composer Sohail Rana between 1968-1987, the Silver Jubilee show produced by Shoaib Mansoor for PTV (Pakistan’s National TV station) during the 1980s, the Indus Music Channel show started by producer Ghazanfar Ali during the early 2000s, Pakistan Music Stars sponsored by ARY TV today, along with other current popular TV music shows such as the hugely popular and successful Coke Studio of Karachi now in its 6th season, or Pakistani Idol (modeled after American Idol); and in-depth interviews of audiences spanning the gamut of class, gender, religious and urban/rural locations of Pakistan, including some attention to diasporic audiences of Pakistanis in the USA and UK.
Exploring this cultural facet of Pakistan is urgent given that it is one of the world’s predominantly Islamic societies, which has primarily been, and continues to be, seen by the US public through the lens of fundamentalism and terror. The titles of essays and op-eds in major newspapers and magazines in the US tell the story of how Pakistan is viewed in American society today. Thus, for example, Vanity Fair, a popular magazine read widely by Americans of all backgrounds, published an essay by the well-known journalist and cultural commentator Christopher Hitchens in 2001with the fear-inducing title, “On the Frontier of Apocalypse.” A decade later, Hitchens continued in the same vein, arguing in an impassioned piece for Vanity Fair in June 2011, that “to continue the policy of engagement with Pakistan is delusional, shameful and ultimately self-defeating for the government of the USA. “
Nicholas Kristof, whose op-eds in the New York Times are widely read, focuses largely on Pakistan’s poor and downtrodden women. A New York Times online video by him from November 30, 2008, is called “On the Ground with Nicholas Kristoff—Acid Attacks”—clearly drawing attention of readers to the women victims of these awful attacks. He writes, “Westerners associate terrorism in Pakistan with suicide bombers, but the real emerging terrorist threat for Pakistani women is being disfigured by acid attacks, often by their husbands.” And the widely read and cited book he co-wrote with Linda Coverdale, In The Name of Honor (2006) on Mukhtaran Mai’s life (it is billed as her memoir)—focuses on a case of a woman (Mai), gang-raped by a village of men, a case that grabbed international headlines.
While Hitchens and Kristof make some valid observations, they tell only half the story of a part of the world and of its female population that has become so important in the public imagination. My book project aims to shatter the stereotype of Pakistan as simply a terrorist state (Hitchens) and its female citizens as uniformly the victims of religious, state, and familial oppression (Kristof). Instead, my project provides a different view of Pakistan’s rich cultural past and present, which connects Pakistan and its people, including its women, to the larger comity of nations, through a participant-observer ethnography of the complex lives of its most accomplished female singers.
By telling the stories of these women singers I hope to convey the complex and evolving nature of gender, class, and religious issues in Pakistan today, where the struggle for its soul is being waged by religious extremists on the one hand, and by cultural artists like these females singers on the other. These female artists represent the best hope for a secular and progressive Pakistan, and therefore, their lives and negotiations for recognition in a male-dominated culture must be highlighted, understood and supported by as wide a swathe of readers as possible in America and elsewhere in the West. To this end, my project is both well timed and crucial, and because of its subject matter, will prove attractive and informative to diverse audiences seeking to understand better a part of the world that has been center-stage for the past decade.