Best Selling Author Discusses Life and Books

October 28, 2011

During an intimate conversation on Thursday night, author Khaled Hosseini discussed how his life led him to writing two best selling novels during the Schooler Lecture at the University of Mount Union. Hosseini is the author of two New York Times best sellers – The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Schooler Lecture Featuring Author Khaled Hosseini
Courtesy of Mount Union's Radio Station - WRMU 91.1 FM
Download: Timeline for Improvement.mp3
Download: Afghanistan Misconceptions.mp3
Download: Women of Afghanistan.mp3
Download: Afghan Nationalism.mp3
The 46-year-old Afghan native, Khaled Hosseini, is the oldest of four children. His father was a diplomat in Afghanistan, a position that led their family to France in 1976 for a four-year stay. The family had every intention of moving back to Afghanistan, but that all changed when then the Soviets invaded in 1979. Hosseini’s father was granted political asylum and their family quickly moved from France to California.
Moving to the United States, starting a new life and learning English was difficult for Hosseini’s family.
“I think the culture shock was much greater for my parents,” explained Hosseini. “They had to go on welfare after living very comfortably in Afghanistan, owning homes and cars and having people work for them. In the United States, they had to start from zero.”
Hosseini’s father and mother worked blue collar jobs to try and make ends meet. His father was a driving instructor and social worker, while his mother worked as a waitress and hairdresser. Hosseini didn’t have a lot of friends in high school, but became close with a clan of Cambodian kids. Although they spoke different languages, camaraderie was built between them because they all understood what it was like to try to fit in and learn the English language.
Following high school graduation, Hosseini pursued a bachelor’s degree in biology from Santa Clara University. He also earned a medical degree from University of California-San Diego's School of Medicine in 1993, and he completed his residency at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.
“I went to medical school because I was a practical and sensible kid. I pursued medicine for rational reasons,” he said. “I loved writing, but I never thought that I was any good at it. I wanted to be a writer in a way a kid would say ‘I want to be president.’ It just seemed untouchable.”
As far as Hosseini’s memory stretches back, he remembers story telling as a kid in Kabul. There wasn’t a whole lot to do in the winter months, so he and his siblings, cousins and friends would all make up stories and go around the circle and tell their tales. He soon realized that everyone was bored with the game until he got up to talk. They were listening, responding and wanting to know what happened next. It was the first time he found creating stories to be intoxicating, and the rest is history.
“Every secret dream I had of being a writer was squashed once we came to the United States because I couldn’t speak or write English,” he confessed. “I was lucky if I could have a conversation with someone at the grocery store, let alone write a best selling novel.”
Hosseini was a practicing internist from 1996 through 2004. While in medical practice, he began writing his first novel, The Kite Runner, in March of 2001. He was waiting for a sign to finally make the leap and quit medicine to focus solely on writing. That sign came to him while sitting at home flipping through the TV channels and seeing his own name as an answer to a Jeopardy question.
“Practicing medicine was like an arranged marriage for me. You don’t know each other at first, but eventually become fond of one another,” explained Hosseini. “Writing on the other hand, was like coming back to your high school sweetheart, your one true love.”
When talking about the development of A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini confessed to the audience that the most difficult part in the writing process was writing from a female perspective. He became obsessed with making the two women’s voices sound authentic. The more he tried, the more their voices sounded like his own. Once he focused on making them sound human with their own hopes, dreams and fears, their stories came alive.
“At that point, the novel took off,” he said. “It became an amazing ride.”
During the Schooler Lecture press conference, Hosseini addressed a question about the issue of literacy in Afghanistan.
“Literacy is one of the big challenges in Afghanistan, an obstacle in the middle of a path toward many great things such as democracy,” he said. “If people can’t even read, how can they be expected to make informed decisions about candidates, issues and things that pertain to their lives?”
Hosseini did tell the audience that he is currently writing his third novel, which includes a larger cast of characters than his first two books. He’s written a significant chunk of the story, and it is coming along nicely.
He ended the moderated discussion by explaining that everyone who reads a book, whether fact or fiction, brings his or her own personal experiences, intellect and thoughts to the story.
“We no longer live in a world where the events that truly affect us are limited by our zip code,” he said. “Our community is no longer defined by our campus, hometown or even country. You are going to learn that we live in a world that is interconnected, meaning that events halfway around the world will have a profound impact on how you live and work. Hopefully realizing this will be the first step in expanding your own horizons.”
The Schooler Lecture Series was established in 1988 with grant funding from the Schooler Family Foundation. The Foundation's philanthropy has enabled Mount Union to provide a dramatically enhanced opportunity for young men and women studying at the institution and for residents in the greater Alliance area to experience the breadth and depth of American culture.
Past Schooler lecturers have included the late former U.S. President Gerald R. Ford; former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop; former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; former hostage Terry Anderson; Schindler’s List author Thomas Keneally; the late holocaust survivor Leopold Page; Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell; former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; environmental conservationist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.; the Archbishop Desmond Tutu; the late and former moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press Tim Russert; political analysts James Carville and Mary Matalin; writer and commentator Fareed Zakaria; humanitarian Greg Mortenson; and astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.
The next Schooler Lecture at Mount Union will be held during the 2012-2013 Academic Year.


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