The Ra­dius of Arab Amer­i­can Writ­ers

Poets and Writers - - Trends -

When poet Glenn Sha­heen first started writ­ing, he had lit­tle sense of com­mu­nity as an Arab Amer­i­can writer. He felt con­strained from writ­ing about Arab Amer­i­can is­sues or iden­tity, and his un­der­grad­u­ate writ­ing pro­fes­sors scoffed at “iden­tity writ­ing,” telling him it would be “a cheat to write like that, be­cause you’d im­me­di­ately get pub­lished.” But when fel­low poet Hayan Charara in­tro­duced Sha­heen to the Ra­dius of Arab Amer­i­can Writ­ers (RAWI), Sha­heen found a com­mu­nity that sup­ported and em­pow­ered his artis­tic free­dom. “RAWI helped me be proud of my Arab her­itage. Know­ing there was a thriv­ing com­mu­nity of Arab writ­ers of all back­grounds and gen­res made me re­al­ize I was ac­tu­ally a part of that com­mu­nity,” says Sha­heen. “I feel free to write about any­thing now af­ter meet­ing so many other Arab writ­ers—some work­ing on science fic­tion nov­els or ecopo­etry or ex­per­i­men­tal dra­matic works. It helped me see that there isn’t a spe­cific mold of an Arab Amer­i­can writer that I should as­pire to or avoid.”

Sha­heen is not the only writer who has found com­mu­nity through RAWI, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that for the past twenty-five years has worked to sup­port and dis­sem­i­nate cre­ative and schol­arly writ­ing by Arab Amer­i­cans. RAWI—a word that means sto­ry­teller in Ara­bic—was first es­tab­lished in 1992 by jour­nal­ist and an­thro­pol­o­gist Bar­bara Nimri Aziz as a sev­en­per­son group of writ­ers that met in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. It has since grown into a thriv­ing com­mu­nity of nearly 125 writ­ers, artists, and jour­nal­ists all over the world, from the United States to the United Arab Emi­rates. Mem­bers in­clude lit­er­ary heavy­weights like Pulitzer Prize fi­nal­ist Laila Lalami, Na­tional Book Award fi­nal­ist Rabih Alamed­dine, poet and trans­la­tor Fady Joudah, and poet Naomi Shi­hab Nye. The or­ga­ni­za­tion now hosts work­shops and a bi­en­nial con­fer­ence that fea­tures pan­els, read­ings, and work­shops for Arab Amer­i­can writ­ers. The last con­fer­ence, which fo­cused on a range of top­ics in­clud­ing craft, pub­lish­ing, and the ef­fects of Is­lam­o­pho­bia, was held in Min­neapo­lis in June 2016 and cospon­sored by Mizna, a non­profit that pro­motes Arab Amer­i­can cul­ture. The next con­fer­ence will

Hayan Charara ad­dresses at­ten­dees at the 2016 RAWI con­fer­ence in Min­neapo­lis.

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