One: keep a diary. Two: don’t wait, just make it. Three: you have a story to tell. These were three takeaways author Malaka Gharib left with students during her visit to campus on October 20 for a dynamic assembly about exploring her identity through illustration, becoming a published author, and her discoveries and stumbling blocks along the way. Gharib is the author and illustrator of I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir, Pingree’s 2022 Community Read, and It Won’t Always Be Like This.
One: Keep a Diary
Gharib has kept diaries of her day-to-day life through her childhood and adulthood, often peppered with collages, illustrations, and short text snippets. These chronicles of her life informed her storytelling style and provided a wealth of information when writing her two books. The first centered around her identity as a Filipino-Egyptian American woman, and the second focused on her experience in a blended family.
Two: Don’t Wait, Just Make It
After graduating from college with a degree in magazine journalism during 2008’s Great Recession, which caused a near collapse of the print magazine industry, Gharib found new inspiration from her childhood hobby, zine-making, which she leveraged to found The Runcible Spoon, a food publication that earned the attention of the Washington Post and The New York Times. Gharib ultimately built a career in digital journalism; she currently serves as the digital editor for the NPR podcast, “Life Kit.” She balances her work there—which includes illustrating—with writing, illustrating, and marketing her books. She shares, “It’s a lot of work and discipline. No one is going to fight for your art and the things that you like except for you. If you don’t value it and see it as important as your day job, no one is going to do that for you.”
Three: You Have a Story to Tell
Malaka’s memoir began as a protest in opposition to anti-immigrant rhetoric. Her family’s lived experience was completely different from the descriptions of immigrants being shared, so she began to create and share on Instagram illustrations about her immigrant family’s experience. These illustrations, and later writing I Was Their American Dream, allowed Malaka to intentionally explore her relationship to race for the first time. In doing so, she recognized her story’s potential to resonate with other teens trying to find their place in the world. Gharib encouraged students, “If you feel moved by what’s happening around you, you should tell that story. Your perspective is worthy and valid.”