Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Rabih = God

This bears repeating: I am so in love with The Hakawati, by Rabih Alameddine. I'm not finished reading it, but I can say with confidence that this is the novel I have been waiting to read for years. It offers the best of so many worlds: it's an American novel, an Arab novel, and an Arab American novel; it's fantasy, history, humor, war-reportage, family saga, sexuality. It's an absolute gem. Please, please, please, read it. Now.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Arabic is not a disease

My world was unwittingly rocked tonight when I hear Rev. Wright utter the following:
“Please run and tell my stuck-on-stupid friends that Arabic is a language — is a language, it is not a religion. Barack HUSSEIN Obama, Barack HUSSEIN Obama, Barack HUSSEIN Obama. There are Arabic-speaking Christians, there Arabic-speaking Jews, Arabic-speaking Muslims and Arabic-speaking atheists [extra points for this!]. Arabic is a language, it is not a religion. Stop trying to scare folks by giving them this Arabic name like it’s some disease.”
I actually cheered the television. I haven't done that since the first time I saw some Iron Chef episodes back in 2000...

Rabih Alameddine's The Hakawati

Rabih Alameddine's new highly acclaimed novel, The Hakawati, is finally out, and I can't wait to get started on it. Rabih's other novels, Koolaids and I, the Divine, have been amazing. Check out his new website for more info, and buy your copy now.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Arabic Booker Panel at the London Book Fair

This year's LBF honored the Arab World, which meant there were dozens of panels to attend, with literary rock stars both on- and off-stage. Most of the panels were conducted in Arabic, with wildly gesticulating translators behind plexiglass, their voices snaking into non-Arabic-speaking attendees' headphones. The most interesting of these panels included the one for nominees of the Arabic Booker, which was moderated by Feisal Darraj, the James Wood of the Arab Lit World. Darraj introduced each writer, and the writers went on to talk about why they write, the impetus behind their nominated novels, and the political implications of their work.

Darraj introduced the entire panel by pinpointing the authors' common ground: he said the novels nominated this year all refused to worship the past, and instead, looked ahead to a golden future age.

The first introduced was the winner of this year's prize, Bahaa Taher, who went on to say that he wrote Sunset Oasis because he believes that the purpose of his writing is to show his society its flaws. He said this was a Moliere-ism, and then he paraphrased Chekov, too, saying that he didn't write sad stories to make people cry, but to force them to change.

The following authors all agreed, disagreed, and celebrated writing in their own ways. May Menassa said that she wrote to live. Jabbour Douaihy said he wrote simply because he liked it. And Khaled Khalifa, the most hilarious of them all, said he wrote because it was the only thing he was good at.

It was an inspiring panel, and later, I meant to ask Darraj how the committee decided on the nominees, but I was thwarted by throngs of readers. It was exciting to see so many people interested in and excited by Arabic fiction.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My sister is the world's biggest Badass

Donia Jarrar plays Chopin Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp minor:

Friday, April 18, 2008


I'm back from London and happy to be home. I'm thrilled that I got to meet the literary rock stars I've looked up to since college. After a few days of immersion in the world of books, it's also nice to be back in the real world. Ann Arbor has transitioned into Spring. Yay!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

London Calling

Wow. I am having an amazing time over here. I'm exhausted, but I want to make sure I record all the cool things and people I've seen since Sunday, or at least some of them:

Small dogs attacking huge swans at Kensington Gardens

Adania Shibli and loads of other amazing people at a party

A Duchamp/Man Ray/ Picabia exhibit at Tate Modern

Ahmad el-Aidy crossing the street

Baha'a Taher and the other five nominees for the Arabic Booker (more later)

Pink Flamingos

Denis Johnson Davies, who speaks better Egyptian than I do

The Saqi bookstore

Ahdaf Soueif, Mourid Barghouti, Alaa el-Aswany, and hundreds of other writers @ The Roof Gardens

Indian food with Selma Dabbagh

It's been so fabulous...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Fabulous New Anthology of Arab American Poetry

My dear friend Hayan Charara has edited an amazing new anthology of poetry titled Inclined to Speak. It just got reviewed in Booklist:
Booklist, April 1, 2008

Make no assumptions. As with all double-named ethnicities, the designation "Arab American" encompasses people of dramatically diverse backgrounds with stories of family, war, exile, lost languages, cherished traditions, forbidden love, and the art of reinventing home and self. An Arab American is an immigrant or American-born; a Muslim, Christian, or Jew; a human being faced with negative stereotypes, made worse in the wake of 9/11. Poet Charara has gathered 160 clarion poems by 39 Arab American poets (each briskly profiled) to create a potent and synergistic anthology that illuminates the slippery elements of identity. Familiar voices--Naomi Shihab Nye, Jack Marshall, and Lawrence Joseph--combine with poets who though new to most readers will be quickly embraced, so direct, lithesome, and affecting are their poems about the solace of nature and the paradoxes of the human condition. Here are poems of Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Egypt, of New York, Detroit, and South Dakota. Born in a Palestinian refugee camp Suheir Hammad reaches for the essence: "you're either with life, or against it. / affirm life."

--Donna Seaman
Order a copy now!

A MAP OF HOME, the Hebrew edition

I recently found out that my novel will come out in a Hebrew edition with Kinneret-Zmora in Israel. This news came the day after I went to see The Band's Visit, an Israeli film which really moved me with its meditation on loneliness and tri-lingual love of music-- I saw the film as a homage to old Egyptian film.

I'm excited that Hebrew-speaking readers will get a chance to check out the novel. Kinneret -Zmora publishes Etgar Keret, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Paul Theroux, Kurt Vonnegut, Gunter Grass, Hanif Kureishi, Zadie Smith, Don Delillo, V.S. Naipaul, Hanif Kureishi and Arundhati Roy, among others.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Egypt on my mind

The Egyptian government recently rejected a large number of liberal, left-leaning, and Muslim Brotherhood candidates from running in parliamentary elections. The ruling party then took 36,400 seats because they were "uncontested." Protests have been alive and well, and on Sunday workers held a general strike to demand decent living conditions. There have been wage revolts throughout the country, with some protesters dying at the hands of police. My thoughts and prayers are with the people, who have been living (poorly) under a quarter-century dictatorship. Enough is enough.

Baheyya on Aslan

Baheyya wrote eloquently about Ibrahim Aslan in August. His newest book is called Something Like That and collects his most recent nonfiction. From the review:
Aslan is by far my favourite writer among his contemporaries. While very readable, Sonallah Ibrahim’s work is highly cerebral and lacks beauty (with the exception of his latest oeuvre). Baha’ Taher has become too transparently didactic and self-conscious in his writing, Khairy Shalabi’s storytelling is exuberant but unrestrainedly verbose and showy, Gamal al-Ghitani’s prose is too opaque and impenetrable, and reading Edwar al-Kharrat is grim work, what with all of his avant-garde philosophising. Mohamed El-Bisatie’s writing comes closest to Aslan’s poetic power and economical style, but his fixation on village life over-relies on predictable themes and characters.
Beautifully put! Check out Maalik el-Hazeen, or The Heron, if you haven't read his fiction.

Friday, April 04, 2008


My short stories just won a Chamberlain Award for Creative Writing here at the University of Michigan. I'm really excited! A portion will be donated to Hedgebrook, which nurtured me and inspired me to work on the collection. I encourage you to apply to Hedgebrook, and/or make a donation; every writer should get to experience the solace and beauty it offers.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Darwish Does Scotland

The Palestinian National Theatre will be putting on Mahmoud Darwish's Jidariyya at the Edinburgh International Festival. There will also be a dance-theater piece(!) based on The Picture of Dorian Gray, and a new adaptation of Poe's The Tell Tale Heart. The festival opens with a concert of Brecht and Weill's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. I want to go! The Fest is happening August 8-31. Click here for more info.
Guess what this paragraph is about...
"Women on the streets [here] are so sober. They don't seem to have a sense of joy," said Alcala. "When they walk in here, they are fun people. They love to dance, laugh and be silly, but I never see that outside."
FInd out if you're right here.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Events Calendar

August 29-31
Decatur Book Festival

September 5
Harvard Bookstore, co-sponsored by Center for New Words
1256 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA

September 6
Blue Stockings
172 Allen Street
New York, NY 10002

September 11
603 N. Lamar
Austin, TX

September 15
Shaman Drum
311-315 South State Street
7:30 PM

September 17
Skylight Books
1818 N. Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Tel: (323) 660-1175
7:30 PM

September 18
Readers' Books
130 E. Napa Street
Sonoma, CA 95476
7:30 PM


September 19
Books Inc. in Opera Plaza
601 Van Ness, SF

September 26
The Book Cellar
4736-38 North Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60625

October 9
4454 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48201


November 1
Texas Book Festival
1-2pm in room E2.028
Texas State Capitol

November 11
Wordstock Festival
11AM Reading
3PM First Books Panel

Texas on my mind

I've been seeing the shape of Texas everywhere. Today I thought I saw it on a sign that said, "Salad Bar," but that was just a rude sketch of a plant. And yesterday I thought I saw it in some crawling ivy against a wire fence. I'm not going crazy. I just identify the state's shape with a sense of home and belonging. And for someone to whom the question "Where are you from" requires a 7 sentence answer, the mandalic and healing powers of the Texas outline are sort of a big deal.