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Khaled Hosseini ’88

Join the discussion from August 5th to October 7th as our book club reads The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini '88, author of 'The Kite Runner'

Khaled Hosseini '88, author of 'The Kite Runner'

Photo credit: (c) Haris Hosseini

1. How did you end up at Santa Clara University?

Like most people, I didn’t choose my school based solely on one reason. I knew that SCU offered a topnotch education, and I had already been taught during fifth and sixth grade by Jesuits back home in Afghanistan, so I knew a little bit about the Jesuits education philosophy and I came to Santa Clara knowing that my education would be interactive, flexible, and adaptable. Plus, I had formed roots in the bay area by then and I loved northern California, loved living here with my family and so that was an additional convenience that couldn’t be overlooked.

2. Who was your favorite professor and why?

I had many wonderful professors and I carry fond memories of them. But perhaps my most memorable time was with Dr. William Parent, who taught philosophy. I took several courses with Dr. Parent and thoroughly enjoyed his Socratic, interactive method of teaching. He always brought humor and lightheartedness into our discussions and found ways of applying real life examples to theories learned in class and questions raised during discussion. Also, his love affair with the then tragically doomed Boston Red Sox was a constant source of ribbing from us Giants fans.

3. What is your favorite memory of your time at SCU?

Getting the top grade in my elemental Chemistry midterm my Freshman year. Dr. Atom Yee called me down to solve a problem from the test on the blackboard, and afterward gave a beautiful little speech about the contributions of immigrants in the U.S. –himself being the son of immigrants. I was touched and proud, and his words about immigrants not only meant a lot to me, but served to inspire me through the rest of my time at SCU.

4. Where did you live while you were a student?

I lived with my family at home in San Jose, near the Flea Market area.

5. What was your favorite Benson food?

Club Sandwich with Fries and a Coke.

6. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Secretly I wanted to be a writer. I started telling stories orally to my siblings early on, and began writing short stories around the age of 9 or 10. One of the short stories I wrote around the age of ten actually made its way into The Kite Runner. I never told anyone I wanted to be a writer because I didn’t feel it was a sensible career –especially after we moved to the U.S after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and I had to learn English. In my family, there were three acceptable careers: Medicine, Law, and Engineering. Writing to me was an act of self-indulgence, a hobby that gave me enormous gratification and kept my mind happily occupied even when I wasn’t writing.

7. What inspired you to write your first book?

The Kite Runner began in the spring of 1999, as a short story that I wrote after hearing on television that the Taliban had banned kite flying in Afghanistan. As a boy, I spent quite a bit of time flying kites, so this small detail struck a very personal chord for me. That short story sat on a shelf in my garage for quite a while until March of 2001, when my wife found it and read it and loved it. I told her it did not work as a short story but that there was in it, at least it seemed to me, the germ for a novel. With her support and encouragement, I set about expansing that 25-page story into a novel and found myself, within days, immersed in the world of The Kite Runner.

8. What challenges did you encounter when you wrote The Kite Runner?

The biggest challenge in writing the novel lay in writing the last third of the book, the section when the protagonist travels to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The first two thirds of the novel unfolded in 1970’s Kabul (which I remembered vividly from my childhood there in that era), and in the Bay Area in the 1980’s (for which I lifted memories from my own life, most notably the time I spent working at the flea market in San Jose with my father and other fellow Afghans.) The third section dealt with an Afghanistan I had not personally experienced. So I had to speak to fellow Afghans who had traveled there, or lived through the civil war and the Russian war, and collect anecdotes and stories -The most vivid example of this is when I overhead someone at the wedding talk about seeing someone on the streets of Kabul selling his artificial leg. I paid close attention to Afghan news and researched the Taliban and spoke to a lot of fellow Afghans.

9. What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Write the story you need to tell and want to read. It’s impossible to know what others want, so don’t waste time trying to guess. Just write about the things that get under your skin and keep you up at night. Write about what feels urgent and important to you. Believe in what you know and believe in the process and show up daily no matter how well or how badly it’s going. Don’t pay too much attention to other writers’ routines; you will develop your own and though it may not work for someone else, it will work for you. And of course, read. Read a lot. Read the classics, read contemporary. Read the kinds of things you want to write and read the kinds of things you would never write. You will learn something from every writer you read.

10. What are you reading or writing about now?

I am currently working on a possible adaptation of my second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, into a limited series for TV.

11. How has your time at SCU shaped your life today?

I remember my years as a Bronco as a time when I got quite serious about securing a future for myself. During my time at SCU, I learned how to work with purpose and direction. It was a time of exponential personal growth and independence, of learning to take responsibility for myself. It was, in other words, a time when I did the proper foundational work for becoming an adult.

In support of the most vulnerable people in his homeland of Afghanistan, Khaled Hosseini established a foundation in 2007. Today help is needed more than ever. To learn more, visit The Khaled Hosseini Foundation.

Aug 19, 2021

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