arab american lit

Another article on Arab and Arab American literature:
“‘People don’t understand that literature started in the Arab world,’ [U.S. poet] Abinader says. ‘The short story was invented in Egypt. When people talk about Arab American literature as ‘new,’ I’m sorry — it’s not. This is a literature that has a tradition longer than Western literature. There were Arab women poets in the seventh century. Writing by Arab Americans is one of our major accomplishments. The only congressionally legislated poetry monument in the country is the Gibran memorial.’
The memorial to Kahlil Gibran, who died in 1931, is in Washington’s Rock Creek Park, a few minutes’ drive from the White House. Gibran, who was Lebanese American, is best known for “The Prophet,” a volume of poetry that, since its initial publication in 1923, has remained popular around the world. ”


6 Responses to “arab american lit”

  1. Jonathan Edelstein Says:

    Hmmm. I’m not sure about Albinader taking credit for ancient Egyptian literature; Egypt’s Arab identity didn’t take shape until much later. I also think it’s fair to call Arab-American literature a new genre; Arab literature is very old, but the Arab-American community is a twentieth-century phenomenon. The same is true of Jewish-American literature; there have been Jewish poets for thousands of years, but a distinctly Jewish-American voice didn’t develop until sometime in the 1920s or 1930s. I’d say that, to a great extent, recent immigrant communities in America – and by “recent” I mean less than 100 to 120 years old – are still finding their literary voice.

  2. moorishgirl Says:

    Even if you divorce Arab American literature from Arab literature, there still wouldn’t be much point in calling it ‘new’ in light of the work of the emigre (or ‘mahjar’) writers like Elia Abu Madi, Ameen Rihani, Kahlil Gibran, and others. In that sense Elmaz Abinader is right. As for ‘voice’ (and to the extent that there is such a thing) I tend to think of it in more individual terms. My two rials.

  3. Jonathan Edelstein Says:

    Good points. Albinader seemed to talk about Arab and Arab-American literature interchangeably; if Arab-American literature is viewed as a subset of a larger genre, then it certainly isn’t new. I’m not sure it should be viewed that way, though – for one thing, much of it isn’t in Arabic, and for another, expatriate communities tend to develop distinct cultures and artistic traditions.

    Maybe Arab expatriate literature in France, the UK and elsewhere should be studied along with Arab-American authors. And what about Arabic literature in Israel? Arab Israelis aren’t expatriates, but on the other hand they’ve been influenced by non-Arab traditions and they often don’t really feel at home. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to talk about Arab literature as a single genre at all, which may have been what you meant about individual voices.

    The rest of our disagreement stems from my warped version of “new.” As far as I’m concerned, any literary genre that only dates back 100 years is a new one.

  4. moorishgirl Says:

    Frankly, I think Abinader’s reaction comes from always having to justify that there is a tradition of Arab American literature in this country. It gets tiring at times.

  5. language hat Says:

    Keep in mind that the “new” stuff is probably standard PR (“New! Improved!”), and if I were an Arab-American writer I don’t think I’d care much if I were marketed as “new” or “traditional” as long as my work got out there and I made a few bucks off it.

  6. moorishgirl Says:

    Heh. Tell me about it.

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