All posts by Ashley Oldham

‘Ayesha at Last’ Author Uzma Jalaluddin Creates a Modern-Day, Muslim Adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice’

The Jane Austen Summer Program is happy to welcome Canadian author Uzma Jalaluddin to speak at this year’s symposium. Jalaluddin, who lives in a suburb north of Toronto with her husband and two sons, teaches high school and writes for the Toronto Star. Her debut novel, “Ayesha at Last,” is a modern-day Muslim adaptation of Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” We got the chance to talk with her about her new novel and her love for Austen.

Ayesha_FinalWhen did your love for Austen, and “Pride and Prejudice” in particular, first begin — are you a long-time fan or a more recent one?

I remember reading “Pride and Prejudice” for the first time. … I was around 15 or 16 years old, and I’ve always just been a voracious reader. I’ve always been hunting libraries and spent a lot of time in the stacks just finding new books to read. … Of course, Jane Austen is classic, so I picked up “Pride and Prejudice,” and I have to say, I remember the first time I read it. It’s a hard read for someone who is raised in North America — the language is a little bit old-fashioned, but the characters just gripped me. Once I got into the story, I loved it. Then I read all of Austen’s works. … But my favorite, of course, is “Pride and Prejudice” because it was my very first entry into Austen’s world.

What did you find either surprisingly simple or difficult about translating Austen’s work across both time and culture?

Like so many books out there, and especially the classics, there’s some universal themes that make them classics. They last for a reason. It’s not just because they’re historical examples — people read them and enjoy them for a reason. Partly, it’s the beautiful language. I’m a debut novelist, so I wasn’t really attempting to go for that level of expertise with the English language. What I wanted to capture was the interesting characters. Now the funny thing about my book is I didn’t set out to write a “Pride and Prejudice” remake. I just wanted to write a romantic comedy that featured Muslim characters because, so often times, people of color, and specifically marginalized communities, especially Muslim communities and others — we don’t really see our stories represented, and if we are represented, it’s always as victims or in unhappy stories. … I wanted to write something about people that I know, that is authentic and that really provides a nuanced view of how Muslims live their lives in North America. That was my goal. In the course of drafting it … a writer friend of mine read it and was like, “You know you’re writing ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ right?” Then I read my book again … and thought, “I can’t believe it.” Then I very consciously decided to lean into it, and I added the overt references to “Pride and Prejudice.”

Is “Ayesha at Last” based on a real location or community in Canada?

It is. It’s really inspired by the way that I grew up. It’s a suburb just east of Toronto called Scarborough. It’s this kind of very diverse suburb of people from literally all over the world. There’s neighborhood pockets. In this kind of melee, I grew up … and I was part of a mosque community. I just wanted to capture that, not so much from a religious point of view, but just that homey sense of belonging. That was part of the book that I really wanted to capture because I think people read Austen also for the homey, family undertones of it.

UJ-9579webIf you could have dinner with any Austen character, who would it be, and why?

I find Emma fascinating — what made her tick, and why did she think that she knew what was best for everyone else? I would just love to sit down and let her talk about the way that she sees the world. I also think Lydia is kind of a brat and would be a really great dinner companion because I could see her jumping around from topic to topic. I wouldn’t want her around all the time, but for dinner? Yeah, I could go with Lydia — but I think me and Lizzy would be buddies.

As a teacher, columnist and author, what advice would you give to other writers? What writing advice helps you the most in your own writing?

Don’t give up. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. I take advice from other writers, so I love this advice from Stephen King. He has this line that said, “Life isn’t a support system for your art, it’s the other way around,” meaning that your art is supposed to enrich your life, but you don’t live for your art. … So that really helped. The other thing that really helped was finding my people — finding my fellow writers that really understand the process.

Ayesha at Last” is available in Canada, and will be out in Britain, Australia and New Zealand in April. It will be published in the United States in June. Register today to hear Jalaluddin speak at JASP on Friday, June 21.

Jane Austen Summer Program holding two essay contests for Triangle students

The Jane Austen Summer Program is holding two essay contests for local middle and high school students: PlayMakers-JASP Essay Contest and the JASP Jane Austen Essay ChallengeWinners will receive full admission to JASP. See below for information on the contests.

PlayMakers-Jane Austen Summer Program Essay Contest


The Jane Austen Summer Program is pleased to announce its second-annual PlayMakers-Jane Austen Summer Program essay contest, co-sponsored by the Jane Austen Summer Program and PlayMakers Repertory Company. Open to any student enrolled in Grades 6-12 who has seen the PlayMakers performance of Life of Galileo, this contest seeks to combine both theater and writing by challenging students to write a short essay on the play.

Entries for the JASP-PlayMakers essay contest are now open. To enter, students should write a 250-500 word essay regarding the PlayMakers performance of Life of Galileo. Students can choose to write on one of the two prompts listed below.

  1. Life of Galileo is a fictional portrayal of one man’s life. Through this play, biographies, and movies, Galileo lives on, and audiences today can learn more about him. Writing about the life of another person is a large responsibility, as the writer can determine the subject’s reputation for years to come. Research Galileo’s life to find one element of his biography that is different from how the play portrays it. Describe the difference, and then consider why Bertolt Brecht made this change for the play. (Hint: Virginia’s life was very different!)
  2. Throughout Life of Galileo, Galileo has alternatively loving and tense relationships with Andrea and his daughter Virginia. What do these relationships tell us about Galileo as a father and a teacher? Why does Galileo’s identity as a mentor matter so much to him?

Contest winners will be announced in April. The first-place winner will have the chance to receive free admission to the Jane Austen Summer Program “Pride and Prejudice & Its Afterlives,” which will take place from June 20-23 in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, N.C. Winning students will also receive two tickets to any PlayMakers performance in the 2018-19 season.

Entries for the essay contest will begin being accepted now through April 1, 2019, and should be sent to The top of the essay entry should include the student’s name, grade, age, school name, date the student attended the play, title of the essay, as well as whether or not the student can attend JASP if selected as the first-place winner.

PlayMakers Repertory Company’s Life of Galileo, by Bertolt Brecht and adapted by Joseph Discher, runs Feb. 27-March 17 at the Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, N.C. For information, visit

The Jane Austen Summer Program is an annual, award-winning 4-day symposium for all Austen readers. For information about this year’s program, please visit

For any additional questions about the PlayMakers-Jane Austen Summer Program essay contest, please reach out to Emily Sferra at easferra (at) live (dot) unc (dot) edu.


JASP Jane Austen Essay Challenge

Win a FULL scholarship to the Jane Austen Summer Program by answering the question…

What is it that makes Jane Austen so timeless and relevant today?

PP2019logo-webSThe Challenge: Write an essay in which you analyze the modern relevance of Jane Austen’s novels, Pride and Prejudice in particular. In your writing, take note of the fan fiction culture which has developed around her work and discuss why you believe her themes and characters have stood the test of time – even in our modern, digital age.

  • Your essay should be between 500-1000 words, MLA formatted.
  • Strong essays will cite outside sources to support the central argument.
  • All middle and high school students in the Triangle region are eligible.

All submissions due by April 1. Please send essays to kedelstein (at) chccs (dot) k12 (dot) nc (dot) us.

Submissions should include your name, the name of your school, and your rising grade.

Please do not apply if you are unable to attend JASP 2019.

GRAND PRIZE: Full admission to this year’s Jane Austen Summer Program, June 20-23, where this year’s topic is “Pride and Prejudice and Its Afterlives.”  

Additional book awards will be offered for 1st and 2nd runners-up.




Pride, Prejudice and Empowerment on ‘World Day of Social Justice’

A decade ago, the United Nations General Assembly promoted the need to address pressing issues in society by creating “World Day of Social Justice,” observed annually on Feb. 20.

According to the U.N., social justice helps create and maintain peaceful existence in and among all nations. It is advanced through the removal of barriers that individuals face on the basis on “gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture, or disability.” The U.N. hopes that their pursuit of social justice will foster both “development and human dignity.”

“World Day of Social Justice” is more than just a simple celebration. Rather, it is a reminder that society has come far, and yet, still has further to go in terms of fairness and equality for all individuals. If we are able to advance the pillars of social justice, we can enable the creation of a more equitable world for all.

Now, how exactly does this share any relation to Jane Austen?

Well, let’s examine Elizabeth Bennet’s late-night conversation with the “Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh,” upon her hearing that Mr. Darcy has made an “offering of marriage” to Lizzy. Namely, let’s examine a certain assertion and response between the pair:

“Miss Bennet, do you know who I am? I have not been accustomed to such language as this. I am almost the nearest relation he has in the world, and am entitled to know all his dearest concerns.” “But you are not entitled to know mine; nor will such behaviour as this, ever induce me to be explicit.”

JASP Blog Social Justice (1)

At face value, one could claim that Lady Catherine simply wants to know the potential actions of Mr. Darcy because she is, indeed, his “nearest relation.” However, Austen is sure to throw in the age-old question “Do you know who I am?” We see it time and time again, whether in books, movies, television shows — or live and in person.

It’s a declaration of social status. It is a claim that — given her social standing and position of wealth — Lady Catherine is somehow above Elizabeth, and in that sense, somehow more entitled to know matters of perceived importance. Lady Catherine even goes so far as to say that she is not “accustomed to such language as this.”

That language? It’s the ability to say no. It is the language of speaking on equal ground —putting one’s foot down and declaring that wealth, class and social standing do not equate to the power of maintaining unkind behavior and holding authority over someone else. In telling Lady Catherine that she is not “entitled to know” her concerns, Elizabeth stands up for herself, and Austen shows that fairness and equality should reach beyond the bounds of one’s social class.

If we wanted to, we could examine this same sort of empowerment and breaking of social norms in Elizabeth’s rejection of Mr. Collins’ proposal, or in many of her interactions with Mr. Darcy.

This is not to hail Austen as a proponent of social justice by today’s standards, or by those declared by the United Nations. However, it is to say that, over 200 years ago, Austen was able to weave words of social inequalities into her writing. She was able to show that women can stand up for themselves — that they have the power to go against social norms and assert their own values in situations of inequitable treatment, or simply situations they do not agree with.

If Austen was able to show women going against the grain and standing up for their values in her time, however subtly, then we as a society should be able to address timely issues of even greater consequence today.

Taking a look back at the statement of the United Nations, it is to say that we should all do what we can to break down barriers, go against the grain in the name of our own values, and foster the pursuit of both “development and human dignity.”

Ashley Oldham is the publicity intern for the Jane Austen Summer Program.