Essays and Features

Iraqi Actor Jawad Shukraji on Childhood, Working Under Saddam and His Recent TV Series

Rebecca Joubin

When you think back on your childhood, what is the first thing that strikes you?

I was born in Baghdad in 1951 near the shrine of Abdel Ghader al-Gaylani, a Sunni holy man. My mother was from Karbala and my father from Najaf. I was born Shii, yet I spent the early days of my childhood near this Sunni holy shrine.

Clearing a Path for Mainstream Arab-American Literature

Andrea Shalal-Esa

Arab-American literature was already growing by leaps and bounds in the late 1990s, but the Sept. 11, 2001 hijacking attacks fueled an upsurge of interest in all things Arab and Muslim and helped broaden the mainstream appeal of poetry and prose by American authors of Arab descent. More Arab-American writers are getting published, and their work is finding its way into more anthologies of women’s writing and other postcolonial collections, albeit slowly. Challenges remain, to be sure, but we are watching a vibrant new genre of Arab-American literature emerge after a century of struggle for recognition. 

“Imaginary Homelands”—Lebanese American Prose

Evelyn Shakir

I take my title from an essay by Salman Rushdie, in which he reflects on the need many expatriates, exiles, and just plain emigrants feel to look over their shoulder at the land that they have left behind and that now seems lost to them. And, if they’re writers, to try to recreate it in the literature they produce. But Rushdie issues a warning:  “We will not be capable of reclaiming precisely the thing that was lost.” Instead, “we will create fictions, not actual cities or villages but invisible ones, imaginary homelands.”

The Passing of a Great Syrian Writer: Ilfat Idilbi, 1912-2007

Simone Fattal

It was on a day, much like today (Saturday, June 30), the day of the Gay Pride Parade in Paris, that I met my friend, the writer Ilfat Idilbi, for lunch at Les Deux Magots a few years ago. I had not realized that the Gay Pride Parade would be taking place when I’d first proposed that date for our meeting – I dreaded crowds and noise, both things that did not bother Ilfat Idilbi in the least. As soon as we settled on the terrace, the parade floats began turning down Boulevard St. Germain.


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