10 Remarkable Women in Arab American Prose
By Emiliya Strahilova/Arab America Contributing Writer
This month we praise Arab American women and their contributions in different facets of life. Arab American women are passionate about their families, careers and social environments. Their drive makes them excellent communicators and storytellers. We picked talented writers whose work reflects on their Arab past and roots, as well as on the reality of the Arab identity today. With this list, we celebrate the imagination and the creativity that make pictures and concepts alive and reachable. We don’t claim these are the only authors who deserve attention; there are plenty more Arab American women publicists, novelists, essayists, poets, screenplay writers, etc, who have proven themselves over time or are coming into the spotlight now. We would love to introduce them in our future articles.
1. Randa Jarrar
Randa Jarrar is the brave and the provocative rebel of the modern Arab American literature. She is of Palestinian and Egyptian origins and the characters of her books are mainly Arab. Her first novel A Map of Home became a success in 2008 and since then it has won four significant awards. The book is about a girl, Nidali who changes homes several times with her parents, in times of war and political conflicts. The story delves into layers of cultural and social norms and their meaning to Nidali and her family. Randa has several essays where she openly talks about racial segregation. She also doesn’t conceal her sympathy for underground lifestyle, partying, and being sexually unrestricted. Randa’s latest book Him, Me, Mohammad Ali also managed to impress the critics. Los Angeles Review of Books flatters the novel saying: “These stories showcase the strength and talent of a writer of immeasurable gift and grace, who confronts the poignant and often brutal realities her characters face with sass and verve.”
2. Diana Abu Jaber
Diana Abu Jaber is connected to the Arab world through her father’s Jordanian roots. She is a professor at Portland State University. With more than a dozen prestigious awards, Diana has become a respected author of Arab American literature. Her books have been examined as case studies on subjects like gender, ethnicity, and cultural awareness.Abu Jaber wrote two memoirs: The Language of Baklava, and the culinary “memoir of food and family” Life Without A Recipe. The Jordanian American writer has a knack for expressing herself through writing, cooking, and writing about cooking. Learn more about Diana Abu Jaber love of food here.
3. Etel Adnan
Etel Adnan is a multitalented artist with Lebanese ancestry. She is a poet, essayist, novelist, painter, and sculptor. She writes in English, Arabic, and French. Some of her writings were filmed, others were adapted for the theatre. Adnan is one of the most prominent names in the Arab American arts community. She studied philosophy which is mirrored in the spiritual essence of her work, but she is also known for her viewpoints on political issues. Etel’s visual art is associated with the Lebanese landscapes.
4. Susan Abulhawa
Susan Abulhawa is a noteworthy Palestinian-American writer who also actively advocates for Palestine. She is a founder of Playgrounds for Palestine–a fundraising program that helps for the building of more venues around Palestine for the children to play. She also supports BDS. Her bestselling work is the Mornings in Jenin. The novel is said to give a historical insight into the life of a Palestinian family before and after the events in 1948. It was perceived positively and got translated into 28 languages. Susan Abulhawa writes for international media like Al Jazeera and also has experience with medical publications.
5. Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye has a Palestinian father and an American mother. The stories in her writings combine gracefully the Arab and the American societies. Nye has three novels and multiple poems and short stories. She writes for children. Her book Habibi is semi-autobiographical and portrays the family of 14-year-old Liyana which moves from the USA to Palestine. Habibi is perceived as a novel both for youth and for adults, so it got awarded in both categories. Nye also edits and teaches poetry. In June 2009 she was named as one of PeaceByPeace.com’s first peace heroes. In 2013, Nye won the Robert Creeley Award.
6. Laila Lalami
Laila Lalami was born in Morocco and grew up in the USA. She is a novelist with many important awards for her writings. Her book, The Moor’s Account won the American Book Award, the Arab American Book Award, and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. It was on the Man Booker Prize longlist and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Laila is a columnist for The Nation magazine and writes for many national newspapers. Nevertheless, she encourages other writers by teaching creative writing.
7. Mohja Kahf
Mohja Kahf is a Syrian American. Her family is Muslim and she even spent time studying in Saudi Arabia. She is an author of novels, poems, and essays. Her novel, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, was a “One Book” reading at Indiana University East (Richmond, Indiana) in 2017. The book was chosen as the Book Sense Reading Group Favorite for June 2007 and as the book of the year for the One Book, One Bloomington Series, by the Bloomington Arts Council in 2008.Mohja is a progressive Muslim and an activist; wrote articles discussing sex and gender issues.
8. Susan Muaddri Darraj
Susan Muaddri Darraj is a professor at Harford Community College in Bel Air, Maryland, and the author of The Inheritance of Exile-a collection of short stories of Arab American women. She published several articles exploring feminism themes. Susan is also a lecturer in Johns Hopkins University’s MA in Writing program. Susan is a former editor at Barrelhouse Magazine and The Baltimore Review. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in New York Stories, The Orchid Literary Review, Mizna, Sukoon, Banipal, and elsewhere. Her articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, The Little Patuxent Review, The Baltimore City Paper, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Al-Jadid, Baltimore Magazine, Pages Magazine, Sojourner, Calyx, Urbanite, and other forums.
9. Samia Serageldin
Samia Serageldin is a fiction and non-fiction writer with Egyptian origin. Her autobiographical first novel, The Cairo House, was published in 2000 and translated into 10 foreign languages. Her second novel, The Naqib’s Daughter, about Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt in 1798, was published in February 2009 by Fourth Estate UK. Her most recent book is Love is Like Water & Other Stories. In addition to fiction, she has published essays on Islam, women, Arab American writing, and counter-terrorism, most recently in Muslim Networks (UNC Press) and In the Name of Osama bin Laden (Duke Press).
10. Hedy Habra
Lebanese American Hedy Habra has lived both in Lebanon and Egypt. She writes poetry, essays, and short stories.Her collection of short fiction, Flying Carpets (Interlink 2013), won a 2013 Arab American National Book Award’s Honorable Mention and was a finalist for the 2014 Eric Hoffer Award and the USA Best Book Award. She has an M.A. and an M.F.A. in English and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Spanish literature, all from Western Michigan University, where she currently teaches. She writes poetry and fiction in French, Spanish, and English and has numerous poems and short stories in journals and anthologies.