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G. Willow Wilson: Muslim Superhero Highlighter

WASHINGTON – Her first graphic novel, Cairo (Vertigo, 2007) has been listed as a top graphic novel for teens by the American Library Association and the School Library Journal.

Her comic series Air was also nominated for the Eisner Award, and her first novel, Alif the Unseen, won the 2013 World Fantasy Award.

However, the 35-year-old American comics writer, prose author, essayist, and journalist Gwendolyn Willow Wilson is more widely known for Ms. Marvel series, the first to feature a Muslim American superhero as the title character regularly reaches the top of the bestseller lists.

Wilson who has atheist patents also wrote books for young adults and a memoir about her conversion to Islam.

At the beginning of her career, she thought of breaking into the comic book world might take a miracle. At the time, Dutch cartoons insulting the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) had sparked protests across the 66 countries of the Islamic World.

When Wilson guest-wrote two issues of “Superman,” however, right-wingers were apoplectic, she says, accusing her of using the superhero to spread Shari’ah. Wilson appears to have had the last laugh.

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In the early 2000s, Wilson attended Boston University to pursue a degree in history where she started to study a number of religions, including Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

She first considered converting to Judaism because she admired the idea of “the indivisible God who is one and whole,” but she disliked the xenophobic texts of it.

After studying Judaism, she focused on Islam, which appealed to her because “to become a Muslim is sort of a deal between you and God.”

Shortly before her graduation in 2003, Wilson agreed to teach English in Cairo, Egypt. In this major Islamic North African nation, Wilson converted to Islam.

Before she started her book series, Wilson had already had a few forays into the comic book industry, having worked on titles such as Superman and Vixen previously.

She received an email for an interview with David Gabriel, a senior vice-president at Marvel Entertainment. She was offered to co-create a new version of Ms. Marvel named Kamala Khan alongside Sana Amanat, a director, and editor at Marvel Entertainment.

Both artists wished to create a teenage Muslim American girl. While creating Kamala as a character the duo expected negativity, not just from people who were anti-Muslim, but also from Muslims who believed Kamala should be portrayed in hijab.

The Muslim American writer received several awards like the Middle East Book Award for Youth Literature in 2012, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award in 2013, the World Fantasy Award in 2013, the Broken Frontier Awards in 2014, the Hugo Awards in 2015, and Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in 2016.

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