April is Arab American Heritage Month and UVA Librarians are celebrating by putting together some resources to help you explore literature, film, and poetry created by Arab Americans! Amy Hunsaker, Librarian for Music and Performing Arts, prepared the following list. Please direct research queries involving Arab American experiences, histories, and lives to Phil McEldowney, Librarian for Middle East and South Asia Studies.
Want to explore Arab American literature but don’t know where to start? UVA Library holds a substantial collection of Arab American fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. Here are some books to get you started.
“Modern Arab American Fiction: A Reader’s Guide” by Steven Salaita
A guide for people with little experience in this genre and who want to learn more about the writing traditions of Arab American fiction. The book provides an introduction to and critical examination of many works by notable Arab American writers, while exploring the cultural background of the writers’ countries of heritage — Lebanon, North Africa, Palestine, Iraq, and more. Short stories and poetry are provided in full with commentary for notable full-length novels.
“The Other Americans” by Laila Lalami
Lalami has published notable works, including “The Moor’s Account,” which won multiple awards and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. The Other Americans is her latest novel, a murder mystery which cleverly uses multiple first-person perspectives to explore the relationships of within the Moroccan American Guerraoui family that finds itself at odds with its rural Southern California neighbors.
“The Beauty of Your Face” by Sahar Mustafah
Trigger warning: vivid description of a school shooting.
A radicalized shooter has attacked a Muslim girl’s school where the daughter of Palestinian immigrants serves as principal. As the horror unfolds in the present, the author takes the reader to the past, showing the principal as a young Muslim girl in America, struggling to stay true to her family and heritage while fitting into an often belligerent American culture. These flashbacks prepare the reader for the protagonist’s dramatic confrontation with the shooter as she struggles to understand why he would commit this horrible crime.
“Out of Place: A Memoir” by Edward Said
A reading list of Arab American authors would be incomplete without a work by intellectual scholar and leading advocate for Palestinian rights, Edward Said, who is known for his groundbreaking works “Orientalism” and “Culture and Imperialism.” In his memoir, Said explores his “otherness” as a person living in exile in various countries throughout his life, and lays bare the plight of Palestinian refugees who were ousted from their homeland regardless of wealth or stature. While Said’s intellectual works are lofty academic discourses, his memoir looks inward as he reflects on his own remarkable life.
Looking for more?
If you are looking for a more comprehensive list of literature to explore, The National Endowment for the Humanities maintains Muslim Journeys, a virtual bookshelf that focuses on Muslim culture and literature as part of their Bridging Cultures Bookshelf.
Additionally, BackStory, a podcast series supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and Virginia Humanities, provides an in-depth look at America’s relationship with Islam in a variety of segments produced in 2015.
And finally, check out the Ottoman History Podcast created by UVA History professor Chris Gratien, which sustains and supports academic discussion about Turkey and the Middle East.