Between worlds

Conference explores Arab-American writing after September 11

Arab-American novelists and poets, like many other writers from a variety of backgrounds, straddle two worlds—that of their cultural community and the U.S. mainstream. Never has this task been more challenging than since 9/11.

abstract painting of human figure

© Zahi Khamis

With that idea in mind, Tufts’ Arabic program will be hosting a conference on “Arab-American Writing Post 9/11” on Saturday, April 24, and Sunday, April 25.

“The goal of this conference is to convey knowledge and understanding between Arab-Americans and Americans in general,” says Amira El-Zein, assistant professor of Arabic and organizer of the conference. “Gifted Arab-American poets and novelists of the third or fourth generation express in their poems and narratives the qualms of their community. However, they bring to their writing positive cultural stories, forces and linkages.

“These figures, torn between two worlds, that of their origin and that of their adopted country, bear witness to their ‘Arabness’ as well as to their ‘Americaness’ in rich cultural metaphors. Their sense of doubleness puts across a message of hope for change,” she says.

Speakers at the conference will include poet Marian Haddad, poet Sherif al Musa, novelist Samia Serageddine, poet and novelist Sinan Antoun, poet Lisa Suhair Majjaj and El-Zein, who is a poet as well as a scholar. The conference, which is free and open to the public, will be held in the ASEAN Auditorium in the Cabot Intercultural Center on the Medford/Somerville campus. The Saturday program begins with registration at 8:30 a.m., followed by opening remarks by Provost Jamshed Bharucha, and concludes with a reception at 6 p.m. The Sunday program begins with coffee at 9:30 a.m. and ends at noon.

Panel discussion topics will include Arab-American writing pre- and post-9/11; the Patriot Act and Arab Americans; Arab-American writing and the war on Iraq; Arab-American writing and the Palestinian question and representations of Arab Americans in the American media.

“Arab Americans have largely contributed to writing in English, the language of their country of adoption,” El-Zein says. “Today, no less than 160 Arab-American writers belong to the Radius of Arab-American Writers, showing a great diversity in talent. Interestingly enough, women constitute the majority of this group.”

This is the first university conference to discuss the cultural implications of 9/11 for Arab-American artists. “Although Arab culture is one of the oldest on Earth, it is, in many parts of the United States, simply ignored and misunderstood. The four million Arab Americans who currently live in the United States have been, since 9/11, the intense focus of American media, often demonized and misrepresented,” El-Zein says.