Black Lawrence Immigrant Writing Series Selection: Talking with Boys by Maya Kanwal

Upon careful review, the Editorial Board of the Black Lawrence Immigrant Writing Series recommends Talking with Boys, Stories by Maya Kanwal for publication through Black Lawrence Press.

About the Author

Maya Kanwal is a Pakistani-American writer from Houston, TX. Her work has appeared in journals such as Witness, Gulf Coast and Meridian. She holds an MFA from the University of Houston Creative Writing Program where she was an Inprint C. Glenn Cambor Fellow, and an MS from the University of Oregon. She serves as Director of Workshops & Community Engagement at Inprint Houston and is Assistant Fiction Editor at Conjunctions.


Artist Statement

Talking with Boys, Stories is a collection of linked tales that follow characters from the villages, towns and cities of Pakistan to Dubai to Houston. Connected through generations and geographies, the characters in these stories find love, find agency, and find their essential selves as they steer through economic, political and personal crises both out of their control and self-inflicted.

The Lahore cycle comprises origin tales for characters who are migrants to Dubai and Houston—women and men grappling with a patriarchal and politically oppressive culture to claim their own ground. The Houston stories follow second generation Pakistani-American women navigating intersectional identities and a fierce need for independence in the context of a duty-focused home environment often commandeered by first-generation immigrant parents, who are featured in their younger years in Dubai. Their stories, set in the 1980s and 1990s, at the height of Dubai’s construction boom, are immersed in the lives of economic migrants grappling with the challenges of exploitative labor conditions in Dubai.

Talking with Boys explores the subtle ways in which women gain and hold on to freedom, the power games they must play with patriarchal forces of all genders as they plot their survival, and how they navigate their culturally-enforced economic dependence on men.



When Immigration and Customs Enforcement descended on our nook of Houston, we knew one of us would be taken: we were all brown. That we had nothing to hide, that we had each placed everything we loved on the mortgage lender’s table for our three-thousand square foot patch of America, did not matter in those days. That we voted in every election, that some of us had even voted in this eventuality, did not signify in that season of terror. The ICE-men flew through our streets in packs, as if they had been uncaged to fulfill their destiny.

At first, we put on our best American accents. We got neat haircuts. We extracted our US passport cards from dusty corners of our wives’ jewelry safes and slid them into the ID windows of our wallets, relegating our Texas drivers’ licenses to the credit card slots. We stopped speeding. We started weeding, our exemplary flowerbeds proving the model citizens we were. Still, one of us had to go. Chugging beer as Mo grilled sausages on his patio, we mulled over Yasir as our best bet.

This was the kind of determination it took to carry on in America, to carry on America.