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Heritage Month: Arab Americans as Authors

posted on: Apr 6, 2016

BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer

Novels and fictional story telling have played an important role in every civilization as a way to define culture and identity. The first big waves of Arab migrants to the U.S. in the late nineteenth century struggled along the line of assimilating into American culture fully and holding onto Arab traditions. This culture balance propelled many Arab Americans, who sought to understand how Arabs were perceived in America, into the world of literature.

The father of Arab American literature is Ameen Rihani who was the first Arab American to write novels, poetry, essays, critiques, and short stories. He often published his works in both Arabic and English, thus founding the literary movement “adab al-mahjar” (immigrant literature). Rihani was exceptional because he wrote about the oppression of women, the immorality of European and Arab empires of the time, and Orientalism.

Authors like Ameen Rihani, Khalil Gibran, Philip Hitti, and Edward Said created a path for Arab Americans to discover their identities. It is worth mentioning, though, that not all Arab American authors write about Arab issues. Arab Americans have been writing from many different perspectives because they espouse a variety of interests and identities that make the community so vibrant and diverse.

One Arab American novelist who found success in his unique voice is William Peter Blatty who is known most for writing The Exorcist in 1971 and its subsequent novels that turned into classic horror films. Blatty has been publishing novels for last five decades and will be releasing his latest book, The Exorcist for the 21st Century, later this year.

Another distinct Arab American author is Saladin Ahmed who has become a big name in the science fiction genre with his award-winning novel Throne of the Crescent Moon. Today, Ahmed’s work can be found in many magazines, literary journals, and anthologies, showing how far the Arab American voice can reach.

Thanks to the literary giants who were some of the first migrants to the U.S., Arab American authors that came after were able to find their place more easily in literature – an area dominated by Europeans and European Americans. Today, Arab American writers can join organizations such as RAWI (Radius of Arab American Writers) to find support in disseminating their works.

See all articles about National Arab American Heritage Month here.