Ramiza Shamoun Koya, 1970-2020

The Forest Press community mourns the loss of our author and beloved friend Ramiza Shamoun Koya, age 49, on June 5 after a long battle with cancer. Her vitality, spirit, determination, and talent made a major and lasting impact on the Portland literary community as well as on friends and family around the world. She was a vocal advocate for equity, a supportive mentor to many, and an inspiration to all who knew her. 

Until a health-related leave of absence, Ramiza worked at Literary Arts as Director of Youth Programming, where she was recognized for her efforts toward equity and inclusion. Her acclaimed debut novel, The Royal Abduls, launched from Forest Avenue on May 12. 

Ramiza’s literary career included residencies at Blue Mountain Center and MacDowell Colony, where she first heard eleven-year-old Omar’s voice speaking to her. 

She was a regular speaker at the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference, often participating in Writers in the Schools panels. Her 2020 conference proposal on “Writing Secular Muslim Experience” was accepted by the prestigious conference, featuring her alongside Dana Ghazi, Mohamed Asem, Omar El Akkad, and Aatif Rashid. She celebrated that achievement, but with her declining health and the timing with coronavirus, Ramiza was unable to travel to San Antonio to participate. 

In a recent interview for the PEN Podcast, she said, “It’s really important to start telling these stories and have people build up some kind of empathy so that we can all work together. We have a global pandemic right now. It’s not just one place or one culture or one color. Helping to do that has been something that is gratifying to me.”

In her author questionnaire, Ramiza recalled the origin of her novel: 

“This novel began as a short story based on the premise that an Indian-American child, searching for identity makes up an Indian accent and a royal past for his family. As I began writing it in the mid-2000s the news was full of Muslim Americans being disappeared, accused of crimes and made suspect when before they felt integrated. As a teaching artist I had worked with a young boy named Omar whose arm was broken when he was bullied and I wanted to write about a boy like him. Amina’s character came from having a roommate who was a physical anthropologist. We called our apartment the “hybrid zone” because we were both mixed raced and so I decided to write a character who worked on hybrid zones and then use that metaphor for various characters’ identities in the book.” 

The Pacific Northwest community rallied in December 2019, when Ramiza received her six-month prognosis, to make sure she could hold her book and see it on bookstore shelves in advance of the May 12 pub date. Through a team effort, The Royal Abduls made it into Portland bookstores in early February. 

Ramiza signed copies of The Royal Abduls at Powell’s Hawthorne in February. Photo by Riyad Koya.

Copyeditor Maya Myers moved projects around to do an immediate proofread. Samm Saxby and Joanna Rose jumped in to help us write book club questions and get the proofs finished. Liz Prato reached out to authors and sent advance copies so Ramiza would get more blurbs and know her voice was being heard. Kristi Wallace Knight served as sounding board and support. Students at Portland State University created marketing materials and prepared pitches for The Royal Abduls, all of which helped with our publicity effortsKingery printed and shipped the final copies. Our team at Publishers Group West worked with Powell’s, Broadway Books, and Annie Bloom’s to get copies on shelves as soon as possible. Regional authors and booksellers lent their voices to the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association’s campaign to get reviews for Ramiza; the resulting Face Out Extravaganza was the largest Face Out post ever on Northwest Book Lovers. Brian Juenemann and Tegan Tigani brainstormed and coordinated that effort. Gigi Little created quote block images we could use to highlight each blurb and review. Jeremy Garber at Powell’s scheduled a book release event at Powell’s. Literary Arts offered to host an after party. Both of those events were canceled due to the arrival of the pandemic.

“I miss her voice and her laugh and having tea with her,” said publisher Laura Stanfill. “It’s a lifetime highlight that she trusted me with her gorgeous, important novel. When she revealed her diagnosis when we signed in October 2018, I promised Ramiza that if the timeline changed, I would do everything in my power to adjust timelines and make sure she could hold her book. Her trust in me, and the support of this community, allowed me to fulfill that promise. I’m so grateful. And I’m so sad. Ramiza had so much more to say, so many more conversations she would have wanted to participate in.” 

Greg Gerding at The Big Smoke published Ramiza’s most recent essay, “Driving Home.”

Sankar Raman and Laura Lo Forti arranged an in-person interview about what it means to be an American as part of the Vanport Mosaic Festival

Alex Behr interviewed Ramiza for The Rumpus. Read “That Little Bit of Magic.”

Two recent reviews include this one in Cleaver Magazine by Beth Kephart and this Atticus Review one by Shumaila Taher. 

A celebration of Ramiza’s life will be held at some point in the future when it is safe to gather. In the meantime, as per her family’s wishes, please consider donating in her name to one of the organizations dear to Ramiza’s heart: 

Literary Arts

The Pixie Project

Breast Cancer Research Fund

MacDowell Colony

Blue Mountain Center

Join the Main Street Writers Movement

Forest Avenue Press is the home of the Main Street Writers Movement, which launched Feb. 9. (Parades welcome.)
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