Tuesday, July 12, 2005

RAWI Arab Writers Conference Report

From Barbara Nimri Aziz, Founder
July 12, 2005
RAWI’s successful literary conference Kallimuna ended last month with the assumption of new officers, Khaled Mattawa as president and Steven Salaita as Executive Director to continue RAWI nationwide and international work. Mattawa is at U. Michigan in Ann Arbor, and Salaita is at U. Wisconsin in Whitewater.
This brought to a close a two-day program of 19 panels and workshops rich in dialogue, warmth and enthusiasm and spawned new friendships and projects among the 120 participants, mainly Arab American writers, from across the country.
Highlighting the weekend gathering in New York was the awards dinner hosted by Suheir Hammad with stories and poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, Mohja Kahf, Marian Haddad and Maysa Hayward.
Friday Night’s Poetry Reading at the Lang Recital Hall, Hunter College, site of the conference, was highlighted by 6 of our outstanding poets:-- Naomi Shihab Nye, DH Melhem, Mohja Kahf, Lawrence Joseph, Hayan Charara, and Khaled Mattawa.
Leila Shereen and Rachida Mohammedi offered open mike presentations.
AWARDS: Salma Khadra Jayyusi, poet, critic and anthologist was recipient of the first Edward Said Award for Career Excellence, acknowledging her work as an activist, a scholar and a writer. The award was presented to Jayyusi by Mariam Said.
The Outstanding Emerging Writer prize in the name of Hala Maksoud was awarded to novelist Patricia Sarrafian Ward, author of "The Bullet Collection". The award was presented by Clovis Maksoud in honor of his wife, her support for women, her love of literature and her accomplishments as a scholar.
Alice Nashashibi’s groundbreaking work on behalf of RAWI in recent years was recognized in the Evelyn Menconi award honoring the Boston area educator and activist.
The first prize 2005 RAWI Creative Prose was awarded to Chicago writer Sahar Kayyal.
And in appreciation of their "work in building the Arab American creative community," honors were made to outgoing president, poet Etel Adnan and to retiring executive director, Barbara Nimri Aziz.
Praise from Kallimuna delegates:
"….It was an uplifting experience for me to see so many talented writers, poets and presenters of Arab origin gathered together in NY showing pride in their Arab heritage.
I never expected to get an award. I was just so happy to be a part of this momentous achievement…." Alice Nashshashibi
"….It’s hard for me to articulate just how profoundly being a member of an organization like RAWI and having the good fortune to attend the conferene has affected me.
"Now, more than ever, I feel a real sense of belonging, a safety, a certainty of purpose, and an awe at the talent of my brothers and sisters.
RAWI is something very special and I am honored to be a part. Thanks you for giving me a chance to participate, to showcase my work, and, especially, to be with my peers (and soon to be colleagues, I hope) and the incredible current of creative energy they generated last weekend." Amani Elkassabani
"…..Many thanks to you & the whole committee for organizing
and facilitating such a wonderful experience. The RAWI conference was a thoroughly enjoyable and effective forum for meeting people with like interests & goals, and for exploring important issues in the Arab American literary community….. " Heather Hoyt

"…. Thank you for everything you did to put this wonderful conference together. As someone who organizes many events here at Georgetown, I totally understand, and appreciate, all the hard work, energy, effort, and love that go into such undertakings. I enjoyed the weekend so much, and found it rejuvenating and nourishing to be around so many wonderful writers and people interested in literature, people who have a similar background--at least within our wide Arab-American spectrum. I loved the workshops and the panels. I am excited to be part of RAWI…." Zeina Seikaly

"…It was lovely meeting you at RAWI last weekend. I had a great time there and thought the whole conference was a huge success… " Laila Lalami
"…the conference was simply brilliant. I never thought I'd see the day when a conference happens without at least 20% of its participants complaining, and yet this conference seemed to have made everybody happy. I've gotten shining feedback…. (my wife) Diana kept telling me that I was glowing, and it was because I had such a fabulous time. I generally hate conferences and try to avoid them, but this one was...well, Naomi was correct, it was like being with family…." Steve Salaita

"…Mabrook on a wonderful first conference. I am sooo deeply saddened to have missed it. … I had planned to attend, but … In sha Allah next year! I just wanted to share my joy and congratulations at the success of the conference and send you my best regards. May you continue to do great work writing and organizing! All the best from Seattle." Lena Khalaf
"Thank you for the excellent … conference. It was a pleasure to meet you and see the fruits of your years of work. I was very pleased to attend and to meet other Arabic writers. Now, it's back to work. I'm trying to finish a novel by the end of July. Keep in touch." Frances K. Noble
"Congratulations. It was a great event." Kathryn Haddad
"Thank you for organizing such a great gathering of minds and artists. We really appreciate all that you have done it has helped us all move forward in our work…." Micaela Raen

Repeated parting words of participants were "next year!" and four institutions have announced their readiness to host the next RAWI national conference! Before then we will see many more novels, essays, anthologies, poems, and awards from our growing community of talent and pride.

Thanks to the RAWI organizing committee who arranged the panels and workshops and were judges for the awards: David Williams, Susan Muaddi Darraj, Marian Haddad, Mohja Kahf, Steven Salaita, Jomana Amara, Lisa Suheir Majaj, Etel Adnan and Barbara Nimri Aziz.

The New York organizing committee members were Ahmed Issawi of Alwan for the Arts, Gerard Colby of National Writers Union, Maysoun Freij conference coordinator and BN Aziz, conference convener.

We welcome 23 new RAWI members our radius.

And we deeply thank the donors whose financial support made this possible.