A couple of days ago, I visited with a super smart American Cultures class on Arab-American History here at the University of Michigan to talk about my writing. I read an excerpt from my novel and an excerpt from a story I just wrote. The kids responded to the humor and there were a few raised hands at the end of the lecture:
Where do you get your ideas? (Everywhere. I have this maybe-cheesy personal philosophy to keep myself totally open to the universe, and allow stories, images, ideas to attach themselves to me/ to my sub-conscious, and when I sit down to write, out they flow.)
Your writing explores taboo topics. What has the reaction been to your writing? (Positive. Sweet. Couldn’t ask for better.)
Any hate mail? (Once. I told the cops and they filed it under a terrorist threat. I then found myself defending the asshole who was threatening to beat me up.)
Aren’t you afraid of your parents? (No. They already disowned me once. They missed me too much and they’ve learned a lesson.)
Do you think it’ll take a book like The Kite Runner to bring Arab-American writing to the forefront? (I hope not. If a book does hit it big, I hope it includes more voices and diversity and authenticity than the KR. Ideally, I’d like a wave of books to rise, and bring Arab-American writing closer to other immigrant writing, and to general literature. I don’t want it to be ghetto-ized.)
And this question, which was wonderful and surprising: Do you feel a responsibility to write about Arab-Americans?
This has been a topic of great pain and interest to me lately. I’d like to explore Arab themes, but I don’t want to be stuck or bored. I want to write about the other things I’m obsessed about: parenting, food, body size, family, sex, and writing. When my Arab-American friends and I talk, we don’t perseverate over Arab topics. We just hang. When I go about my day, I don’t have a soundtrack of Arab-American issues accompanying my every move. So this is the thing I’ve been sorting out the most lately, as I plan and think about my next novel.