by Alice Wilder
Happy Galentine’s Day everyone! On the absolute best day of the year, my gift to you is an interview with Aisha Muharrar, a truly awesome lady.
Aisha was a published author at 17 with More than a Label, a book about the effects of social labels on teens. She went on to attend Harvard and was the vice president of the Harvard Lampoon. I mean, oh my god.
At 28 she’s still writing, now for NBC’s Park and Recreation. She’s written such episodes as Park Safety, Camping (which I watch twice a month at least), and Born & Raised. I’m not going to write an essay on why I love each of these episodes but rest assured, I could.
I saw her response to my interview request right as I was about to leave for school, and spent the day resisting the urge to dance in class. Obviously I was beyond thrilled to interview her! We talked about the way certain labels impact girls, how being a teen author helped her write for television, and (of course) which Beyonce song is best.
More Than a Label covers the way labels affect teens. Do you think that these labels impact girls differently than they do boys?
I think that labels affect every individual differently, and that both boys and girls experience issues with their self-esteem and confidence because of labeling. However, there are certain types of labels (I’m thinking of those related to sexual experience) that are pretty much only used for girls and they’re specifically used to make girls feel embarrassed, humiliated, ashamed … and the effects of those types of labels specifically impact girls.
There was a lot of buzz about a seventeen year old publishing a book, how did you deal with attention from the media at a young age?
It was a positive experience. Any journalist I spoke to was always encouraging and supportive. It’s possible I got lucky, but I also think people were happy to report positive news. It was definitely exciting, at seventeen, to be in magazines I had read throughout my adolescence. At the time, the biggest media victory to me was the fact that I was one of YM’s Coolest Girls in America. YM was this teen magazine that was an alternative to Seventeen. It was me, Mandy Moore, a math scholar, a poet, and other people … of course, I remember Mandy Moore being part of it.
Was it difficult to navigate getting media attention with your school friendships?
Sure, there were one or two friends who didn’t appreciate the attention I got, but I feel like those were the type of people who also didn’t like that I got a good parking spot in the senior lottery. They wouldn’t have been happy with ANY good thing happening to someone else. My other friends were great. My best friend Sean took the photo for my author page. The publisher suggested I get a professional photographer and to me, Sean was! I was like, he’s the best photographer I know! How much better could a pro be? He did a great job.
Has the work that you did as teen affected your current writing job?
It’s very different work, but I think it actually has affected it, just in the sense that researching for and writing More Than a Label made me more empathetic. I think it’s really important for a writer to be able to write from different viewpoints even if they haven’t necessarily lived life with those viewpoints. More Than A Label put me in touch with so many different types of people and I’m grateful for that experience whenever I sit down to write characters. I’m not interested in stereotypes or caricatures of people. And luckily, I get to work on a show with interesting, specific characters.
I really like the point you made about empathy and thinking outside of caricatures. How did you make that jump from studying people in a more academic context to looking at them for comedy?
Well, it wasn’t so much a jump as it was something that always interested me. But researching the book helped.
What do you want to see more of on television right now?
I want an A Different World reunion. Who decides this and how can I help?
My editor and I have a joke that every one of my blogs for SPARK mentions Beyonce so: what’s your favorite Beyonce song and why?
Crazy in Love. It’s still great. I’ve liked a lot of her music since then, but Crazy in Love is still just so much fun.