I’m a journalist and author based in Karachi, Pakistan. My work has appeared in The New York Times, Al Jazeera, BuzzFeed, the Guardian, The Caravan, Scroll, Roads & Kingdoms, amongst others.

My debut book, on the murder of Pakistan’s first social media celebrity, Qandeel Baloch, is out now. I’m represented by John Ash at Pew Literary.

BOOK

My first book, A Woman Like Her: The Short Life of Qandeel Baloch, is out now (Bloomsbury / Penguin Random House / Aleph). It is available in the UK, Australia, South Asia, USA, Canada, and as an audiobook.

The murder of a Pakistani social media star exposes a culture divided between accelerating modernity and imposed traditional values—and the tragedy of those caught in the middle.

A beautiful woman in winged eyeliner and a low-cut top lies on a bed urging her favourite cricketer to win the next match. In another post, she pouts at the camera from a hot tub. She posts a selfie with a cleric, wearing his cap at a jaunty angle. Her posts are viewed millions of times and the comments beneath them are full of hate. As her notoriety grows, the comments made about her on national talk shows are just as vitriolic. They call her Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian, they say she’ll do anything for attention. When she’s murdered, they’re transfixed by the footage of her body.

Drawing on interviews and in-depth research, Sanam Maher pieces together Qandeel’s life from the village where she grew up in the backwaters of rural Pakistan, to her stint in a women’s shelter after escaping her marriage, to her incarnation as a social media sensation and the Muslim world’s most unlikely feminist icon.

“In “A Woman Like Her,” an exemplary work of investigative journalism, Sanam Maher delves into the story of a woman as misunderstood in death as in life.” Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

“A book about killing that tells us how we live now. Sanam Maher has her ear to the ground and a storyteller’s voice that is intimate and yet soars to the skies.”  Mohammed Hanif

“[An] intricately wrought work of reportage … a model of how to report on celebrity: by focusing on the seedy characters who feed and exploit it, and by harvesting the details … that more conventional journalists leave behind. Maher has an often thrillingly slant gaze, an eye alert to the absurdities, ironies and small tragedies at play in the manufacture of images and personas. Her book is full of unforgettable scenes and vignettes … a map of the savage underworld we’ve made.” Amy Waldman, The New York Times Book Review

“In her excavation of the life of the defiant, glamorous Qandeel Baloch, Sanam Maher has put out the highest calibre of investigative journalism, written with tragedy, poetry and passion befitting of its subject.” — Molly Crabapple

“A breakthrough book, A Woman Like Her bracingly illuminates an increasingly global if yet under-covered phenomenon: the tragic collision between the forged selves of social media and the brute realities of ordinary life. It also describes, with rare intimacy, some profound cultural tumult in a society that is largely known for its political dramas.” — Pankaj Mishra

“Powerfully written and narratively creative, “A Woman Like Her” is less a conventional biography than it is an examination of modern-day Pakistan.” Isaac Chotiner, The New Yorker

WRITING

For more than a decade, I have covered stories on Pakistan’s art and culture, business, politics, religious minorities and women. 

Some favourites

The Internet

Books

Politics

Personal

The Inheritance

Harper’s Bazaar (India),

November 2019

Censorship

Reeled In

The Caravan, July 2016

Making a Mark

The Herald, December 2011

Fashion

Religion

The inimitable Edhi

Newsweek (Pakistan), July 2016

SPECIAL PROJECTS

Knowledge is Bulletproof

In 2012, three young girls named Malala Yousufzai, Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz were traveling in their school bus in Northern-Pakistan when a Taliban gunman boarded the bus and shot them at close range for their “crime” of wanting to go to school. All three girls fought back their serious injuries and emerged as determined spokespersons for the right of girls to be educated.

In April 2018, I worked on ‘Knowledge is Bulletproof‘ with BBDO Pakistan and SOC Outreach to tell the story of Shazia and Kainat. Proceeds from the sale of this limited edition novella, bound with a cover made of bullet-resistant Kevlar-XP cloth, went towards funding girls’ education in the Swat valley in Pakistan. In August 2018, ‘Knowledge is Bulletproof’ won 1 Gold, 5 Silver, and 7 Bronze awards at Asia’s biggest award show, AD Stars. To buy the book in Pakistan, click here.

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Stay Home, Stay Reading

In April 2020, as countries went into lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19, bookshops closed and literature festivals were cancelled, Fatima Bhutto and I started ‘Stay Home, Stay Reading’, a virtual initiative to help authors reach new readers and promote their work. We invited authors around the world to send us videos where they read selections of their works and works they admire, offering stories as a way to escape – even if just for a few moments – the seemingly constant barrage of bad news. The videos were shared on social media, and over X days, we received videos from X writers, including those with massive platforms, such as Rupi Kaur, from Ramallah to New York, in Urdu, Italian, Greek, Hindi, and English, amongst other languages. You can find the videos here.

The Stay Home, Stay Reading virtual initiative to support authors.

Book Riot

Coronavirus effect on reading on World Book Day

Al Jazeera