RAWI (Radius of Arab-American Writers) Provides Creative Matrix for Writers Across America
One of the most exciting developments among Americans of Arab ancestry over the past decade has been the emergence of a number of artists, poets, novelists, essayists and journalists who have publicly identified themselves as being Arab-American. While some of these individuals are first generation, most are second and third. All of them have had an extraordinarily rich and varied creative output in either Arabic, English or both.
It was at the 1992 ADC convention in Washington, DC that several of the writers gathered informally to discuss their common needs as writers within American society and the possibility of forming an Arab-American writers' group. Shortly afterward, a letter was circulated announcing formation of the group and inviting membership. The initial letter spelled out aims of the group as follows:
1. To encourage our Arab youth to write.
2. To urge members to publish their work.
3. To offer members a professional network.
4. To support our brother and sister writers living in the Arab world, perhaps linking up with Arab writers' unions abroad.
5. To welcome established writers as well as writers beginning their careers.
6. To prepare a guide to Arab writers.
The group's first activity was an announcement that one of its members would conduct a writing workshop for Arab children at an upcoming ROOTS convention. A second letter went out to members and prospective members reporting that 14 members had met at the 1993 ADC convention. That letter went on to report literary news, publications of volumes of poetry and novels, and the start-up of an Arab reading group in Boston.
Barbara Nimri Aziz, a producer at New York's Pacifica radio station, WBAI, had been functioning as organizing director of the group, tentatively titled Arab Writers' Group. While the newsletter continued to send out news of its members and others in literary pursuits, the group's founding board, chaired by well-known novelist Etel Adnan, met and decided that its new name would be RAWI, an acronym for Radius of Arab-American Writers. This name was selected because RAWI, in Arabic, means "storyteller."
In the spring of 1994 RAWI's newsletter adopted a more professional format. One page, reporting on "What Our Writers Are Doing," contained entries for more than 20 members all over the United States -- in Boston, San Diego, San Francisco, New York and elsewhere -- and gave readers a glimpse of Arab-American literary contributions worldwide.
Especially exhilarating was the number of poetry publications and readings and novels. Even more encouraging was the fact that many members had received awards and honors for their work.
By the summer of 1994, the RAWI newsletter had its name in Arabic under its English-language title, and educational institutions were writing to the New York director's office to subscribe. More and more, RAWI's newsletter and periodic functions became a meeting ground and network for persons of Arab heritage who are writers, journalists and academics.
"We should be full of romance and heroism and mystery..."
RAWI's emergence as a serious organizing effort of Arab Americans who are professionally or non-professionally involved in writing and the arts comes at a time of greater national awareness of Arab-Americans as an emergent community within the American quilt of many colors -- one whose experiences, traditions and culture provided a very distinct hue that was neither black nor white. …