MEMBER PROFILE: Mehnaz Sahibzada

MEMBER PROFILE: Mehnaz Sahibzada

When and why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I’ve been a member since I became an Emerging Voices Fellow in 2009. I love being part of a local/global literary community.

What is most meaningful to you about PEN Center USA?
I enjoy having access to a plethora of literary events. I also like being part of an organization that values both creative achievement and social justice.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
For me, the freedom to write isn’t just a political right but a spiritual accomplishment. Sometimes our own minds can inhibit our freedom to write. My goal is always to work though any psychological blocks to access what is true on the page. (This isn’t always easy.)

Writers are using their digital media platforms to engage with readers and other writers on serious topics. Can you give an example of a writer or organization that is doing this well?
Margaret Atwood. She’s a literary giant who keeps it real.

What is the one book you wish you had written and why?
In the Woods by Tana French. I love the narrative voice.

What is your favorite quote?
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” — Albert Einstein

Who would be your ideal literary dinner guest (living or dead)?
Charles Bukowski. I think it would be fun to have a beer with him at a local bar and challenge his cynicism.

What are you working on now?
I’m mainly writing poems and blog posts. I’m also experimenting with formal poetry.

Mehnaz Sahibzada was born in Pakistan and raised in Los Angeles. She holds an MA in Religious Studies from UC Santa Barbara, and she is a 2009 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow. Her short story "The Alphabet Workbook" appeared in the August 2010 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Her poetry chapbook, Tongue-Tied: A Memoir in Poems, was published in 2012 by Finishing Line Press, and her second chapbook, Summer Forgets to Wear a Petticoat, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Her work has appeared in publications such as Asia Writes, The Rattling Wall, and The Pedestal Magazine. An English teacher, she lives in southern California. To learn more about Mehnaz, visit her at

Read Mehnaz’s poem here.

Check out our past Member Profiles here.