Ayad Akhtar is an actor, playwright, filmmaker and teacher, now living in New York. Raised in Wisconsin by Pakistani parents, he did his undergraduate work at Brown University. After graduating from Brown, he worked with the renowned theater innovator Jerzy Grotowski in Italy for a year. Returning to the United States, he taught acting classes with Andre Gregory (My Dinner with Andre). In 2005, he made the film The War Within, about the radicalization of an ordinary man into a terrorist. American Dervish is his first novel.
On your nightstand now:
Boomerang, Michael Lewis. Sermons, Meister Eckhardt.
Favorite book when you were a child:
My Name Is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok. I couldn't shake the feeling as I read it at 12 that it was the story of my life. And yet it was about a young Hasid painting prodigy. I was Muslim, and I couldn't even draw!
Your top five authors:
Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Ernest Hemingway, Eric Rohmer, Woody Allen. I've included filmmakers on the list because the avidity and attachment that I felt on first seeing Annie Hall and Claire's Knee was exactly the same thing I felt on first discovering Herzog and The Human Stain and The Sun Also Rises.
Book you've faked reading:
Eat, Pray, Love. In hopes of earning points with the fairer sex....
Book you're an evangelist for:
De Kooning: An American Master by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan. A magisterial and gripping account of life in New York during the heyday of the WPA and Abstract Expressionism, as well as an inspiring tale of an artist's struggle to find his place and voice.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Something to Tell You, Hanif Kureishi. I would have bought it anyway eventually, but that yellow-and-white cover induced a pressing need to own it now.
Book that changed your life:
The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Tolstoy. Made me see what literature could do: Express the inexpressible, and answer the biggest questions not with a sentence, but with an experience.
Favorite line from a book:
We say God and the imagination are one...
How high that highest candle lights the dark.
Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough. --Wallace Stevens
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain. I want to have the reading endurance I once did! And which was handsomely rewarded by an all-encompassing, week-long immersion in a world that changed my way of seeing.
author photos by Nina Subin