Contemporary Arab-American Literature

Contemporary Arab-American Literature: Transnational Reconfigurations of Citizenship and Belonging

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Contemporary Arab-American Literature
    Book Description:

    The last couple of decades have witnessed a flourishing of Arab-American literature across multiple genres. Yet, increased interest in this literature is ironically paralleled by a prevalent bias against Arabs and Muslims that portrays their long presence in the US as a recent and unwelcome phenomenon. Spanning the 1990s to the present, Carol Fadda-Conrey takes in the sweep of literary and cultural texts by Arab-American writers in order to understand the ways in which their depictions of Arab homelands, whether actual or imagined, play a crucial role in shaping cultural articulations of US citizenship and belonging. By asserting themselves within a US framework while maintaining connections to their homelands, Arab-Americans contest the blanket representations of themselves as dictated by the US nation-state. Deploying a multidisciplinary framework at the intersection of Middle-Eastern studies, US ethnic studies, and diaspora studies, Fadda-Conrey argues for a transnational discourse that overturns the often rigid affiliations embedded in ethnic labels. Tracing the shifts in transnational perspectives, from the founders of Arab-American literature, like Gibran Kahlil Gibran and Ameen Rihani, to modern writers such as Naomi Shihab Nye, Joseph Geha, Randa Jarrar, and Suheir Hammad, Fadda-Conrey finds that contemporary Arab-American writers depict strong yet complex attachments to the US landscape. She explores how the idea of home is negotiated between immigrant parents and subsequent generations, alongside analyses of texts that work toward fostering more nuanced understandings of Arab and Muslim identities in the wake of post-9/11 anti-Arab sentiments.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-1902-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Introduction: Transnational Arab-American Belonging
    (pp. 1-27)

    The past two and a half decades have witnessed an exciting flourishing of Arab-American literature, as made evident by the rapid increase in the number of literary texts published in an array of genres, including fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and drama. With roots in an early-twentieth-century Arab-American literary tradition spearheaded by the Al-Rabita al-Qalamiyya, or the Pen League,¹ contemporary Arab-American literature is currently at an important juncture in its development as a field. More courses are being taught on Arab-American literature and culture across the US, more critical texts are focusing on Arab-American studies, and more Arab-American writers are being published...

  5. 1 Reimagining the Ancestral Arab Homeland
    (pp. 28-64)

    Palestinian-American writer and literary critic Lisa Suhair Majaj claims her belonging and attachment to the city of Jerusalem, which she repeatedly visited as a child and as an adult, and describes this city in her essay “Journeys to Jerusalem” as living deep inside her “like the stone of a fruit” (101).¹ Such a weighty and incipient core (which can extend beyond Jerusalem to stand for various Arab locations) holds what Majaj calls the “traces [that] register at the deepest layers of consciousness” (88). Assorted renditions of such a visceral representation of an original Arab homeland, in slightly varied guises, accents,...

  6. 2 To the Arab Homeland and Back: Narratives of Returns and Rearrivals
    (pp. 65-104)

    In 1960, Lebanese-American writer William Blatty published his autobiography,Which Way to Mecca, Jack?, a humorous account of being raised in New York City by an immigrant single mother. It also recounts his visit as an adult to his mother’s native Lebanon, where he worked for the United States Information Agency for two years. Blatty’s narrative, verging on the absurd or even the “burlesque” (Shakir, “Arab Mothers” 6), touches on the important trope of Arab homecomings as carried out and depicted by generations of Arab-Americans whose experience of an original homeland is primarily shaped by their parents’ and grandparents’ nostalgic...

  7. 3 Translocal Connections between the US and the Arab World
    (pp. 105-138)

    From around the mid-twentieth century onward, emigration from the Arab world has been largely instigated by multiple wars and conflicts that have plagued the region, starting with the establishment of Israel in 1948, the Six-Day War between Israel and the Arab states in 1967, the Lebanese civil war (1975–90) and its ongoing repercussions, the First Gulf War in the early nineties, up until the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and its aftermath. With hundreds of thousands of refugees, immigrants, and exiles arriving in the US during this period to escape the horrors of war and dispossession in their...

  8. 4 Representing Arabs and Muslims in the US after 9/11: Gender, Religion, and Citizenship
    (pp. 139-176)

    In the short story “Alone and All Together” (2002) by Lebanese-American writer Joseph Geha, the teenage protagonist, Libby (an Americanized version of the Arabic name Labibeh), is watching the events of September 11 unfold on television in her suburban Chicago home while talking on the phone with her sister, Sally (originally Salma), in New York. Distraught by the “strip at the bottom of the screen” indicating “that everything points to the hijackers being Middle-Eastern extremists,” Libby declares, “I just wish they wouldn’t say it’s us . . . until they’re, like,sure.” On hearing this, Sally fires back, “Us? ....

  9. Conclusion: Transnational Solidarity and the Arab Uprisings
    (pp. 177-188)

    This book conceives homes and homelands as constantly changing and evolving entities that are configured and redrawn based on individual and communal positionalities and outlooks. In doing so, it broadens rigid parameters of US national, religious, ethnic, and racial belonging by placing such configurations within a wide transnational framework. Such a reconceptualization of space and perspective enables us to metaphorically collapse the distance, and the concomitant difference that is believed to accompany it, between Arab-Americans’ original homelands and the new homes they claim for themselves and their children in the US. Contemporary Arab-American literature is a primary site for envisioning...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 189-216)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 217-236)
  12. Index
    (pp. 237-243)
  13. About the Author
    (pp. 244-244)