Class Visit

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.

6 thoughts on “Class Visit

  1. hey randa, i just discovered your work today and read three of your short stories. needless to say i was floored – you keep up with the great arabic literary tradition in a very modern and american way, which appeals to me as a woman with an american mother and syrian father. your writings on negotiating such an identity really struck me. thanks so much. you are stellar! and i can’t wait for your book! holler!

  2. Thanks, chica! Lovely to hear from you and to know you’ve been moved by something I wrote. I see you’re in Berlin! A city I’d love to visit soon. Hope to see some words from you soon.

  3. Oh, my… just came via Nadia at NoSnowHere. Will have to find your stories and read them!

    Where you get your ideas from… that is not cheesy. It’s the truth. Our ideas come from everything and everywhere.

  4. so if you don’t tackle Arab or Arab American themes in your writing, don’t you think others, less knowledgeable, will fill in the gap? responsibility for Arab or Arab American issues should be the burden of Arab Americans. Otherwise, few would care about anything in a world where anything goes when it comes to Arabs.
    an Arab American

  5. Dear Arab American,
    It would be pretentious & haughty of me to assume that I’m the only Arab American writing fiction. If I don’t address these issues, hundreds of others will. I’m just going to write about whatever I want. I’ll always be an Arab American, so my writing will be imbued with my identity. But it’s not my “burden” to write about these issues–nor should it be anyone’s. It ought to be a celebration. And writing is- for me, anyway.

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