Thursday, August 28, 2008

Event: Saturday, 10 AM, Decatur Book Festival

I'll be attending the Decatur Book Festival this weekend, which will host writers like ZZ Packer, C. Michael Curtis, Billy Collins, Amiri Baraka, Jack Pendarvis, Natasha Tretheway, and Hadjii, with whom I'll be doing a panel on Saturday. I hope you'll attend, or spread the word to your Atlanta friends!

Details: Saturday, 10:00-10:45, Conference Center Auditorium, 130 Clairmont Ave, Decatur, GA 30030

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Map of Home will be out in one week!

I think one of my favorite quotes, and I’ll paraphrase, is from Toni Morrison, who said she wrote The Bluest Eye because it was the book she’d been looking to read but never found. This really resonates with me because for years, I ran around college libraries looking for A Map of Home. I became enamored with Arab and African-American and Latina fiction because it approximated my experience, but I was hungry for a representation of my own identity, not just as an Arab, a lapsed Muslim, or an immigrant, but as someone who grew up in a house of ex-artists. I hadn’t seen anything that dealt with that topic that I could relate to.

I started writing sketches in 2001 and Nidali, the narrator, came to me very strongly; she’s funny, independent, fierce and profane. I showed some excerpts to Leslie Marmon Silko, who liked what she saw. She had once been a single mom writer, so she was very generous and gave me a private, two-year grant so I could write full-time. My son and I moved into a trailer in a tiny town in Central Texas, where I enrolled him at the local pre-K program and wrote all day.

One of my favorite reactions to the book came from an elderly woman who’d endowed a prize in her late son’s name, and I won the prize, and my mother and I went to the reception for it, and the woman, who was in her 80s, told me that the book helped her rethink her ideas about immigration and Arabs and Muslims, and then she went up to my mother and said, “I’m sorry dear. Don’t take the book personally.” So I had to comfort my mother and tell the woman that the book is fiction, even though, yes-- it is based on my own history and geographical background.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Back to teaching

I just visited my new office at the University of Michigan and put the final touches on my course-pack. I'll be teaching college writing, and my students will be reading essays by Twain, George Saunders, Leslie Silko, Tim O'Brien, Edward Said, Grace Paley, David Foster Wallace, Christopher Hitchens, and Alice Walker. I know, most of these writers are novelists, but I find their essays brilliant.

One of the things I love about teaching is sharing great, persuasive, creative prose with young'uns.'s an election year, and many of the students will be voting for the first time, and I'm really stoked to give them tons of great arguments to study.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

On the pulling of The Jewel of Medina

When I first heard about The Jewel of Medina, I thought of all the non-fiction accounts we already have about Aisha's life: the story about her swinging when Muhammed first meets her; the way her mom called her in and told her she was to be married; how years later she "lost a necklace" and wandered in the desert with a hottie for hours, pissing Muhammed off. I read books like this when I was getting my MA in Middle Eastern Studies. Do we really need another Aisha book?

A few weeks ago, no one was talking about this book. Then, the publisher pulled it for controversy it hadn't even caused yet. Then, writers as big as Rushdie objected. In the future, the publisher would recant and actually release it. And gee, what a crate-ful of books they would sell every hour. If this was the novel's publicity strategy, it was genius!

I found out today that Asra Nomani deemed the book controversial...after consulting with Denise Spellberg at UT. Denise was one of my professors when I was at UT. She was the one who turned me onto all those Aisha books. And she was really cool: I took an independent study course with her when she found out I was a creative writer trapped in an academic program, and all she ever assigned me was the duty to meet her for coffee once a month and write short stories.

Do I think The Jewel of Medina should be published? Yes. Will I read it? Absolutely not. And ah, the sweetness of living in a culture that allows the freedom to publish such a book and the freedom not to read it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Limbless (Thankfully Not Literally)

My iBook has decided to crap out on me for 7th or 8th time. It's ready to be retired. Currently it's in the Mac Hospital, and I feel limbless. How to survive without my files, my calendar, and all my bookmarks? Of course, I am also hit with a strong desire to write, and nothing to write on. I know, I know, paper.

Monday, August 18, 2008

How we commemorate the dead

"It happened with Naguib Mahfouz too, Egyptian Nobel prize winner. He was celebrated after his death much more than during his lifetime," says Egyptian film-maker Hala Galal of the Egyptian media's crazy lovin' of Youssef Chahine's films... now that he's dead.

Meanwhile, Darwish's funeral was packed, but so were all his readings and events. In Darwish's case, the people backed him and his work.

I'm fascinated with the different ways the two cultures which share a border are commemorating their greatest artists. In Egypt, the tyrranical government is paying tribute to someone who hated it. In Palestine, the people themselves are pouring out, albeit with the PA's approval.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

And the paperback rights to A Map of Home go to...

I'm thrilled!!! More details when I have them...

Monday, August 11, 2008

On Darwish's Death

Most people say they have no words for Mahmoud Darwish's death, and I, too, am finding myself speechless and heartbroken. On Saturday afternoon, I was reading out loud from his poem, "The Subsistence of Birds," at a wedding in the middle of a field. I read these words in Arabic: "You were given to me as mother, father, friend/and brother for the road, and no bird bears more that it can." Those, his words, seem to me the perfect words now. Darwish's poetry has been in my life since I was a child, and I mourn him as I would a parent.

Allah yerhamu. May he rest in peace.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Wisconsin Weddin'

I'm off to Wisconsin to officiate my good friend Elka's wedding. Elka and I met in TX eight years ago, and I've seen her through some gnarly relationshits. Excited she found a keeper. I'll be back next week.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

White House Dreams

I had a dream that someone told me writers and artists could sometimes couch-surf at the White House. This was part of an unofficial artists' residency, and writers like Miranda July and Eudora Welty had both done it. So, I went. It was surprisingly easy to find a cozy little room with a great desk. I ordered food when I got hungry and wrote non-stop. When I got bored of the room, I went for short walks. The house itself was packed worse than the London Book Fair, with people who had terrible fashion sense, so I left through some French doors and strolled around the property. I took a wrong turn and ended up in the parking lot, where W. was parking his hog. He was saying, "He thinks he can already take my parking spot, the bastard." I woke up when I saw Obama's scooter parked against a pole.

Monday, August 04, 2008

"I hope Christians and Muslims will leave the cinema and embrace and kiss one another."

I can't wait to see Hassan & Morqos, a new Egyptian film about a Christian Copt and a Muslim who switch identities and live under-cover in the same building.

I love this kind of stuff. I think serious issues are best tackled via humor.

Plus, Adel Imam and Omar Sharif are dreamy...

Photo courtesy AFP

UPDATE: An article in the NYT about recent Sectarian clashes in Egypt. One Egyptian writer calls what's happening "open season" on Christians.