Saima Shakil Hussain

Saima Shakil Hussain was born in Karachi, Pakistan. Six months later she moved with her parents to Dammam, Saudi Arabia, where her two younger brothers were born. When she was 10 years old, her family returned to live in Pakistan, then back to Saudi Arabia, followed by Toronto, and once again Pakistan. Finally, in 2011, she returned to live in Canada. In between, she also visited several cities in the Middle East, Europe and the United States.

While growing up, she used to get into trouble so often that she was certain that her first book would be an autobiography entitled The Life and Times of a Teenage Delinquent. Happily that has not been the case.

The one thing that Saima always knew was that she wanted to write. Even when she was sitting at the kitchen table doing her homework, she would pretend that she was in an office writing an important article. Along with the writing came a love of reading: storybooks, fairy tales, comic books, National Geographic and Timemagazines. When nothing else was available, the sports section or the back of cereal boxes would do.

Among the benefits of all the moving back and forth between countries are the many good friends she made over the years, and the wonderful experiences she enjoyed. One of the most rewarding was attending university. Upon starting her Bachelors’ double major in English and History at the University of Toronto, Saima was convinced that she would eventually get a PhD. Saima was so excited every time she enrolled in a new English course. There were so many good ones to choose from: Victorian literature, children’s fiction, 20th century Canadian literature, and full-year courses on Chaucer or Shakespeare. It was the same case with History courses. It was hard to focus on just one area, so she did a whole range: European history, Canadian history, British colonial history, the history of Indian nationalism, the Crusades, the Arab conquests, and Modern Arab history.

Once she had finished writing her Master’s thesis on English literature inspired by British colonial rule in India (1858–1947), she decided that she had had enough. It was time to leave the ivory tower.

She worked as Books Editor at Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, where she got paid to—among other things—read newly published books, get to know authors, and meet publishers. It was really less a job, and more a dream come true.

In 2010, she received a fellowship which allowed her to spend a few weeks in the offices of Bloomsbury Publishing in London, UK. Apart from being where the Harry Potter phenomenon began, she had the good fortune to meet the historian William Dalrymple, who wrote The White Mughals, and Howard Jacobson, author of The Finkler Question.

Saima has a working knowledge of Arabic and is fluent in Urdu. Although Urdu was the language she spoke first, she learned to read and write English long before she could do the same in Urdu.

Annick Press books
by Saima Shakil Hussain