RADIUS OF ARAB AMERICAN WRITERS, MAY 17 – 20, 2007
‘Writing While Arab’ is exactly the kind of clever, double entendre title you’d expect from RAWI (Radius of Arab American Writers). At their second annual conference, held May 17 – 20 at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, RAWI used the theme Politics, Hyphens and Homelands to underscore themultiple challenges faced by Arab American writers faced with an intensified climate during the conflict in the Middle East.
A highlight of the Friday night reading was Fadhil Al-Azzawi, whose often humorous, but always intense reflection of his life’s experiences . Although fluent in English, he read excerpts and poems in Arabic, allowing them to be translated afterward. Even among those who do not speak fluent Arabic, the lyrical beauty of the language was evident, and once read in English, the true irony of Al-Azzawi’s words, which speaks to his command of emotional and human-interest themes in any language.
New York writer D.H. Melhem also read poetry from her collection, which also includes seven books of poetry, two critical studies of Black poets, one novel, a musical drama, a creative writing workbook, and two edited anthologies. Paying particular homage to her mother, Melhem recited several loving tributes which transcended race and time for an audience that was multi-national.
Following the poetry reading, Rola Nashef screened her short film ‘Detroit Unleaded’, which is a compact version of the feature she is currently funding. The film tracked a day-in-the-life of Sami, a young Arab-American who believes that his family's gas station will give him a chance to see his girlfriend away from the pressures of family and friends; meanwhile, his cousin Mike is sure the station holds the key to an empire built on rolling papers and fake perfume. As his first night shift wears on, Sami finds that this place is more than just a pit stop for late-night gas, but a place where the uniqueness of this Detroit neighborhood becomes most visible. The audience was both touched and impressed with how accurately Nashef captured the essence of Detroit neighborhoods, and it is with great anticipation that we await a full-length version of ‘Detroit Unleaded’
The three day conference also included poetry readings from the new generation of Arab American poets, including Alise Alousi, Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhran and Hayan Charara, lectures and symposiums offered by some of Arab America’s most eloquent spokespeople. It offered several days of intense vision, both for the future for Arab American writers challenging prejudice, while promoting a respect for the past, and in what better location than Dearborn, amidst the largest Arab community in North America?