The Arab-American Literary Tradition

February 19, 2003

Source: The New York Times

On February 19, 2003 The New York Times reported that "an increasingly visible group of Arab-American writers... have emerged as a result of the ethnic identity movements of the past few decades. They feel a special urgency now in the wake of the terrorist attacks, the continuing conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians, the possibility of war with Iraq and what they see as the widespread labeling of Arab-Americans as terrorists... Like all immigrant groups, Arab-Americans have a sense of doubleness, feeling torn between their parents' traditions and their new culture. In the black-white division of American racial politics, their added burden historically has been the perception of them as black or, at the very least, as occupying an indeterminate place in the country's racial mix... One of the first works about the Arab-American immigrant experience was a 1911 novel, The Book of Khalid, by Ameen Rihani. The best known of the mahjars was the poet Kahlil Gibran, who was born in 1883 in Bsharri, in the Lebanese mountains, and settled in Boston. His mystical poem The Prophet remains one of the best selling books of all time for its publisher, Alfred A. Knopf."