The Radius of Arab American Writers held its badass fourth conference– a kind of Arab-American literary festival– last weekend in Dearborn, MI. I’m one of seven members of the board, and we’d been planning the conference for about a year and a half, and it was super exciting to see everyone converge and get down for the festivities.
The conference kicked off with a reading, followed by a dynamic & inspiring performance by Narcicyst. He performed Fly Over Egypt, among other songs:
I got goosebumps listening to him and seeing the backdrop images his talented wife projected behind him. Afterwards, we all went out for a Lebanese feast at Amani’s. When I said I wanted beer, by friend Dima teased, “Hayati, they don’t serve that here. The guy who owns this place has a massive beard.”
Over the next two days, there were lots of workshops, panels, and performances on offer. My favorite moments included drawing my own mini-comic during a graphic novel/comix workshop, run by Marguerite Dabaie (of Hookah Girl fame). Imagine a roomful of poets and writers and scholars drawing their cats/kids/partners/friends and giggling about their abilities to do so. We also got a chance to see the Michigan Arab Orchestra, which was super fun. I made a comic about the orchestra:
(The observation about the hairspray–>flames was made by RAWI President Hayan Charara.)
We also got to attend a party afterwards at a cigar bar where the musicians jammed and a roomful of diverse folks danced and sang. I asked Rola Nashef, director of the upcoming film Detroit Unleaded, why the crowd was so special, and here’s what she had to say:
Other conference highlights included hearing Elmaz Abinader talk about VONA & the Palestine Writing Workshop; readings by Amir Rabiyah and Kevin Rashid; and the Arab-American Feminisms panel, on which Nadine Naber nursed her baby, which I thought was very feminist-in-action. The Arab American book awards were announced soon after, and Arab & Arab American Feminisms won best Nonfiction! (Diana Abu-Jaber’s Birds of Paradise won Best Novel, and Phillip Metres’ Abu Ghraib Arias won best Poetry- it’s a really cool-looking book, check it out.)
A group of us went to a Coney Island for lunch mid-way through the last day of the conference. That was amazing, and featured tears-inducing laughter care of Fady Joudah and Glenn Shaheen– some awesome Arab-American poets that you should check out immediately.
It was 3 glorious days of singing, reading, talking, communing, and eating more garlic sauce and hummus than I ever thought possible. I envy writers who have community close by, in their own cities. I left Dearborn carrying my community in stories, doodles, photos, notes, and videos, all recorded for safe-keeping, until we’ll get to meet again.