Author Jamil Jan Kochai – Sacramento Magazine
Growing up in West Sacramento, author Jamil Jan Kochai remembers riding his bike in the summer to play basketball at Summerfield Park. “One of the things I’ve always loved about Sacramento and West Sacramento is how diverse a place it is,” he says. “It would be us Afghan kids and then we would play Hmong kids and Cambodian kids. Of course, there is a large Hispanic community in West Sacramento, so Hispanic kids would be there too.
The Islamophobia that swept the United States after 9/11 altered that sense of belonging for Kochai and his family. His parents were verbally abused, he was bullied at school and government agents came to his home to question his father about his time as a rebel fighter after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan . Some of these experiences are explored in Kochai’s award-winning fiction, including his recently published book, “The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories” (Viking).
He was born in an Afghan refugee camp in 1992. In late 1993, his family moved to the Bay Area. When he was 6, his family moved to West Sacramento and eventually settled in the Bridgeway neighborhood, where he returned after college and now lives with his wife.
Kochai credits an English teacher at River City High School with the inspiration for the writing. She assigned long reads and weekly essays, and he got an A—he laughingly notes that might have been the only A of his high school career. The following year, he planned to embrace seniority, but she “ordered” him to take her creative writing course, and he “fell in love with it almost immediately”. At Sacramento State, he continued to seek creative writing classes and was mentored by Professor Doug Rice, then head of the creative writing program. As he entered a master’s program at UC Davis, he told himself that if he was unable to publish his first book by the time he graduated, he would default to a “reliable career.” “. He began the play that would become his first novel, “99 Nights in Logar,” at his first writing studio in Davis, finished it as his thesis, and sold it during the summer of his senior year. year in doctoral school. In 2019 he was shortlisted for a PEN/Hemingway Award.
He gained another mentor as a thesis supervisor at UCD: then Professor Yiyun Li, an acclaimed novelist and MacArthur Fellow. “When Jamil applied to Davis’ writing program,” Li explains, “his application was partial, but the moment I read his writing sample, I knew he was one of the best students we ever met in his early career.. I worked closely with him on his first novel, and once took a photo of a page to send to my friend (literary editor) Brigid Hughes, who immediately published the excerpt in A Public Space, including this page – which was Jamil’s first publication I have followed Jamil’s career with enthusiasm.