Zia Haider Rahman

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Zia Haider Rahman
Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2018
Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2018
Alma materOxford University
Cambridge University
Yale University
Stiftung Maximilianeum
Notable awardsJames Tait Black Memorial Prize
Harvard University, Radcliffe Fellowship
New America, Eric and Wendy Schmidt Fellowship
Dartmouth College, Montgomery Fellowship
Southern New Hampshire University, Honorary Doctorate

Zia Haider Rahman (/ˈzə ˈhdər ˈrɑːmən/) (About this soundlisten) is a British novelist and broadcaster. His novel In the Light of What We Know was published in 2014 to international critical acclaim and translated into many languages.[1] He was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Britain’s oldest literary prize, previous winners of which include Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, J. M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, Angela Carter, Salman Rushdie and Cormac McCarthy.[2]


Rahman was born in Bangladesh in the region of Sylhet.[3] His mother tongue is Sylheti, although he understands some Bengali.[4][5] His family moved to England when Rahman was small, where they were squatters in a derelict building before being moved to a council estate. His father was a bus conductor and waiter and his mother a seamstress. He attended Hampstead comprehensive school in London. In an interview with Guernica, he said that he "grew up in poverty, in some of the worst conditions in a developed economy."[4]

Rahman was a college scholar at Balliol College,[6] one of the constituent colleges of Oxford University, and received a first class honours degree in mathematics[7] before completing further studies in mathematics, economics, and law at the Maximilianeum, a foundation for gifted students, and Munich, Cambridge, and Yale universities. He briefly worked as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs in New York before practising as a corporate lawyer and then as an international human rights lawyer with the Open Society Foundations, focusing on grand corruption in Africa.[8] He has also worked as an anti-corruption activist for Transparency International in South Asia.[9]


In the Light of What We Know, a novel, received plaudits internationally, earning high praise from literary critics such as James Wood,[10] Joyce Carol Oates,[11] Louise Adler,[12] and Amitava Kumar.[13] The novel appeared in numerous end of year "Best of" lists. According to Rahman, most of the book was written at Yaddo in upstate New York.[14]

Rahman's writing has appeared in The New York Times,[15] The Guardian, The New York Review of Books[16] and elsewhere. He is a contributor to A Point of View, a long-running weekly radio show broadcast on BBC Radio 4 to an audience of over a million.[17][18] He is also a documentary maker.[19][20]

Rahman is a critic of liberal elites.[21] From an interview with Rahman in The New York Review of Books:[22]

"There are so few class migrants into the liberal elites. When I was on the road at literary festivals promoting my novel, more than once I was told I really ought to meet [novelists] Mohsin Hamid or Kamila Shamsie. I’m not naive: liberal elites see race before class and are blind to the gulf between my background and the highly privileged one of the likes of Hamid, who attended Aitchison College, Pakistan’s Eton.”
He is now working on a nonfiction book proposal, a memoir, that would explore this theme—of a liberal who has issues with liberals.

Rahman led a project at Harvard University using machine learning, network science, and publicly available data to map the world's elites and their political, business and social inter-relationships, with the mission of raising transparency in the public space.[23]


In August 2015, Rahman was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Britain’s oldest literary prize, previous winners of which include E. M. Forster, D. H. Lawrence, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Nadine Gordimer, Salman Rushdie, Jonathan Franzen, J. M. Coetzee and Iris Murdoch.[2]

Fellowships Rahman received include the Walter Jackson Bate Fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University,[24] a Montgomery Fellowship at Dartmouth College,[25] an Eric and Wendy Schmidt Fellowship at New America,[26] a Senior Fellowship of the Bruno Kreisky Forum, Vienna, and the Michael & Nina Sundell and James Silberman & Selma Shapiro Fellowships at Yaddo. He was an affiliate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard and was invited to a Director’s Visitorship at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

Rahman delivered many public lectures, including a Montgomery Fellowship Lecture 2020, Dartmouth College; the 2018 Reckford Lecture in European Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (previously delivered by Leon Botstein, Robert Pinsky and Mark Mazower);[27] and the 2015 Ashok Kumar Sarkar Memorial Lecture at the Kolkata Book Fair.[28] He has also spoken at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, NYU, London School of Economics, Oxford University, and at numerous literary festivals around the world. In 2014, he replaced V. S. Naipaul as keynote speaker at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.[29]

During 2016, he was writer in residence at the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands,[30] and was awarded the inaugural International Ranald MacDonald Award.[31]

In 2017 Rahman received an honorary doctorate from Southern New Hampshire University, where he subsequently spent a year as visiting professor.[32]

Rahman sat on a number of judging panels for international and American prizes and fellowships. In 2018, he was appointed a judge of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.[33] He joined Maureen Freely, Antonia Fraser, Vicky Featherstone and Peter Stothard as a judge of the 2016 PEN Pinter Prize, established in 2009 in memory of Nobel Laureate playwright and poet Harold Pinter,[34] which the panel awarded to Margaret Atwood.[35] In connection with the PEN Pinter Prize, Rahman authored a widely cited op-ed, published by The New York Times, exploring how British authors of color are identified by British literary elites.[15]


  1. ^ Official website
  2. ^ a b Alison Flood (17 August 2015). "James Tait Black prize goes to Zia Haider Rahman's debut novel". The Guardian.
  3. ^ British Council official website
  4. ^ a b Jonathan Lee (23 October 2014). "How Do You Know?". Guernica.
  5. ^ Leonard Lopate and Zia Haider Rahman (1 May 2014). Leonard Lopate Show. WNYC.
  6. ^ Balliol College, Oxford, official website
  7. ^ S. S. Haque (27 October 2014). "The Completeness of Novel-Writing and Inquiries into Epistemology". The Oxonian Review.
  8. ^ Kate Kellaway (12 January 2014). "Debut authors of 2014". The Guardian.
  9. ^ Puja Bhattacharjee (14 April 2015). "In conversation with novelist Zia Haider Rahman". Governance Now.
  10. ^ James Wood (19 May 2014). "The World As We Know It: Zia Haider Rahman's dazzling début". The New Yorker.
  11. ^ Joyce Carol Oates (23 October 2014). "Witness to the Unknowable". The New York Review of Books.
  12. ^ Louise Adler (5 September 2014). "Book review". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  13. ^ Amitava Kumar (13 April 2014). "The Banker, the Visitor, His Wife and Her Lover". The New York Times.
  14. ^ Pepper Smith (3 September 2014). "Spotlight on Yaddo Artist Colony". National Endowment for the Arts.
  15. ^ a b Zia Haider Rahman (8 April 2016). "Oh, So Now I'm Bangladeshi?". The New York Times.
  16. ^ "Zia Haider Rahman". New York Review of Books.
  17. ^ Zia Haider Rahman (1 December 2017). A Point of View: A Folder Called 'Hope'. BBC Radio 4.
  18. ^ Zia Haider Rahman (24 April 2020). A Point of View: A Few Good Trade Offs. BBC Radio 4.
  19. ^ Zia Haider Rahman (29 November 2017). A Picture Held Us Captive. BBC Radio 4.
  20. ^ Miranda Sawyer (3 December 2017). "The week in radio and podcasts: Blue Planet II: The Podcast; In Search of the Invisible Army; A Picture Held Us Captive". The Guardian.
  21. ^ Hannah Silverstein (12 February 2020). "Zia Haider Rahman 'Reckons with the Elites'". The Dartmouth.
  22. ^ Matt Seaton. "Interview with Zia Haider Rahman". The New York Review of Books.
  23. ^ Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, official website
  24. ^ Harvard University official website
  25. ^ Dartmouth College official website
  26. ^ New America official website
  27. ^ University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill official website
  28. ^ Abir Ahmed (7 January 2015). "International Kolkata Book Fair announces focal country". India Today.
  29. ^ Alison Flood (16 September 2014). "VS Naipaul dropped by Bali literary festival over fee request". The Guardian.
  30. ^ University of Amsterdam official website
  31. ^ "Hollands Dieps congratulates Zia Haider Rahman" 18 September 2016
  32. ^ Lola Duffort (4 May 2017). "Commencement speakers announced for N.H. colleges". Concorde Monitor.
  33. ^ Robert Con Davis-Undiano (2 August 2017). "Jurors announced for the 2018 Neustadt Prize".
  34. ^ Natasha Onwuemezi (17 February 2016). "PEN Pinter Prize extends reach beyond UK". The Bookseller.
  35. ^ Alison Flood (16 June 2016). "Margaret Atwood wins 2016 PEN Pinter prize". The Guardian.

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