Contemporary Arab-American Literature: Transnational Reconfigurations of Citizenship and Belonging

Contemporary Arab-American Literature: Transnational Reconfigurations of Citizenship and Belonging

Contemporary Arab-American Literature: Transnational Reconfigurations of Citizenship and Belonging

Contemporary Arab-American Literature: Transnational Reconfigurations of Citizenship and Belonging

Synopsis

The last couple of decades have witnessed a flourishing of Arab-American literature across multiple genres. Yet, increased interest in this literature is ironically paralleled by a prevalent bias against Arabs and Muslims that portrays their long presence in the US as a recent and unwelcome phenomenon. Spanning the 1990s to the present, Carol Fadda-Conrey takes in the sweep of literary and cultural texts by Arab-American writers in order to understand the ways in which their depictions of Arab homelands, whether actual or imagined, play a crucial role in shaping cultural articulations of US citizenship and belonging. By asserting themselves within a US framework while maintaining connections to their homelands, Arab-Americans contest the blanket representations of themselves as dictated by the US nation-state.

Deploying a multidisciplinary framework at the intersection of Middle-Eastern studies, US ethnic studies, and diaspora studies, Fadda-Conrey argues for a transnational discourse that overturns the often rigid affiliations embedded in ethnic labels. Tracing the shifts in transnational perspectives, from the founders of Arab-American literature, like Gibran Kahlil Gibran and Ameen Rihani, to modern writers such as Naomi Shihab Nye, Joseph Geha, Randa Jarrar, and Suheir Hammad, Fadda-Conrey finds that contemporary Arab-American writers depict strong yet complex attachments to the US landscape. She explores how the idea of home is negotiated between immigrant parents and subsequent generations, alongside analyses of texts that work toward fostering more nuanced understandings of Arab and Muslim identities in the wake of post-9/11 anti-Arab sentiments.

Excerpt

The past two and a half decades have witnessed an exciting flourishing of Arab-American literature, as made evident by the rapid increase in the number of literary texts published in an array of genres, including fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and drama. With roots in an early-twentiethcentury Arab-American literary tradition spearheaded by the Al-Rabita al-Qalamiyya, or the Pen League, contemporary Arab-American literature is currently at an important juncture in its development as a field. More courses are being taught on Arab-American literature and culture across the US, more critical texts are focusing on Arab-American studies, and more Arab-American writers are being published by mainstream presses to national and international acclaim. Yet this increased interest in the current production and circulation of Arab-American literary texts is ironically paralleled by a prevalent and tenacious bias against Arabs and Muslims, one that often erroneously portrays their long presence in the US not only as a recent phenomenon but as a dangerous and unwelcome one to boot.

Such bias against Arabs and Muslims has a long history and has been particularly visible and blatant in US public, political, and legal venues since the turn of the twenty-first century. What with the events of September 11, 2001, and the ensuing US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the interminable War on Terror, Arab-Americans have found themselves relegated to an increasingly precarious position within the US nation-state. Such precariousness firmly brands Arab-Americans as the racial, religious, political, and national Other of a hegemonic US

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