This story recently appeared in the winter 2012 edition of Harker Quarterly.
Khaled Hosseini, the Afghan-born best-selling author of “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” was the honored guest of the Harker Speaker Series on Nov. 30, speaking about the writing process, his experiences in Afghanistan and his humanitarian efforts with The Khaled Hosseini Foundation.Hosseini also attended a pre-event reception for attendees who purchased special tickets to meet the author and receive a personalized copy of one of his novels. Warm and charming, Hosseini chatted with ABC-7 anchor Cheryl Jennings on a range of topics. Jennings also participates in Afghani relief efforts and was a natural choice for this informal, interview-style conversation. Before his appearance, a video of an ABC-7 report by Jennings was shown, briefing the audience of about 400 on The Khaled Hosseini Foundation and briefly mentioning Harker’s involvement. Founded in 2007, the organization raises money to build shelters and provide education, food and healthcare to women and children in Afghanistan, which is experiencing many humanitarian crises after experiencing decades of war. Hosseini’s wife, Roya, is also deeply involved, helping with a program that enables Afghan women to sell crafts to raise money for humanitarian aid. These goods were being sold at a table in the gym the night of Hosseini’s visit. Jennings asked Hosseini about his 2003 and 2007 visits to Afghanistan, during which he saw “a ton of people who had come back to Afghanistan from either Pakistan or Iran trying to resettle, restart their lives in their country and were really having a very, very hard time,” he said. “It shattered me.” Although he watched much of the crises in Afghanistan unfold from outside the country, he nevertheless found that his memories of his childhood in the country were helpful in writing “The Kite Runner.” “It took me by surprise how vivid my memories were,” he said, recalling his time growing up with educated parents and living a somewhat “westernized” lifestyle. He was also surprised by how much the events he had written in the book came to life during his visit. “I started having experiences that I had just imagined this character would have, and I had even written a book about it,” he said. While working on “Splendid Suns,” he took on the challenge of writing from a woman’s perspective, something he at first approached with some overconfidence, despite warnings from his literary agent at the time, the late Elaine Koster. “I have to admit I was a little smug about it,” he recalled. “And then, about three, four months later, I began to see what she meant.” He overcame the difficulty by rendering women in a more universal sense. “I’m just going to concentrate on what motivates them; what do they want from life, what are they afraid of, what are their hopes, and so on,” he said. “It seems trite and simple enough, but all of the solutions in my writing life have always been simple – it’s just very hard to get to them.” Hosseini said he was proud to have changed the perceptions people have of the Afghan people through his writing. “I’ve had letters from people who were really kind of toxic haters of people from that region. And yet, they read the book and they saw something of themselves in the experiences of these characters,” he said. “And they slowly changed. That to me is a tremendous gift as a writer. That’s going to outlive anything that I’ve ever done.” Following his talk with Jennings, Hosseini stayed to take questions from the audience and sign books.