UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 07 Winter 17 Library
Edwin Tse

Khzir Khan to Headline the 24th Annual Virginia Festival of the Book

Coupled with his own experiences as an immigrant to the United States, a successful professional, and a loving father and husband, this tragic loss helped transform Khizr Khan into the public leader that he is today.
sarah lawson

When Khizr Khan speaks, his calm and earnest presence commands attention and respect. His words are deliberate but not without passion, encouraging one to listen deeply and take action. Most often, this suggested action comes in the form of revisiting the Constitution, reading it not only as a foundational blueprint for the United States, but as a living document that informs our ideas of what it means to be an American today. 

During the upcoming 2018 Virginia Festival of the Book, a program of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, Khan will share this same call to action with attendees at two programs: one for local middle school students in Charlottesville and Albemarle, and one for Festival attendees of all ages. These two programs will focus on his forthcoming books, This is Our Constitution: Discover America with a Gold Star Father and An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice, which will arrive on bookshelves across America in October. The former is intended to stoke young readers’ excitement for the Constitution and inculcate in them a deeper respect for its precepts; the latter is Khan’s personal story of pursuing the American Dream in the face of struggle and loss. 

In 2016, Khan became a household name when he spoke at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), challenging the then Republican nominee in a speech that addressed Donald Trump with, “You're asking Americans to trust you with their future. Let me ask you, have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.” In the unscripted moment, Khan then pulled a copy of the Constitution out of his pocket to drive the point home.  

Born and raised in Pakistan, Khan immigrated to the U.S. as a thirty-year-old with his wife, Ghazala, in 1980. The couple became citizens in 1986—the same year that Khan received his Master of Laws degree from Harvard Law School. They raised three sons in Maryland, stressing to them the importance of what it means to be a responsible and engaged citizen, even when that necessitates personal sacrifice. As a Gold Star father, Mr. Khan understands too well the meaning of sacrifice. 

When the Khans’ middle son, Humayun, graduated from the University of Virginia after being active in the ROTC cadet program, it was no surprise that he joined the U.S. Army, eventually rising to the rank of captain. Serving in the Iraq War, Humayun was killed in an explosion in 2004 while stopping a suicide attack, and was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. Today, he is also honored through the Capt. Humayun Khan Memorial Bicentennial Scholarship at UVA as well as a plaque on the north wall of the Rotunda, where other alumni who died in American wars are honored. Coupled with his own experiences as an immigrant to the United States, a successful professional, and a loving father and husband, this tragic loss helped transform Khizr Khan into the public leader that he is today.

Compelled by the overwhelming outpouring of support he received in response to his DNC speech, Khan has spent the past year talking with groups around the country, young and old. In doing so, he builds excitement around an aspect of our country that is often seen through a strictly historical lens; he inspires us to be more engaged in our democracy and to speak up for what we believe. 

When Khan speaks at schools, he concludes each program by inviting two students up on stage with him. In turn, he gives each a pocket copy of the Constitution, noting to the audience that the future of America is quite literally in their hands. The symbolism is a striking reminder of his larger message about the fundamental rights and responsibilities that all Americans should have as citizens of this nation. Indeed, the future of our great nation is in the hands of us all. 

To learn more about the 2018 Virginia Festival of the Book and how to reserve seats for the headlining program with Khizr Khan, please visit VaBook.org.

-Sarah Lawson

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