Teaching Arabs, Writing Self: Memoirs of an Arab American Woman
By Evelyn Shakir
2014, Olive Branch Press, 978-1-56656-924-8, $20 pb.
Reviewed by Alia Yunis on January 31, 2016
Evelyn Shakir’s memoir, published four years after her death, explores Arab American identity on two fronts: at home in the US and when making a pilgrimage to the Arab world, as she did to teach literature at the University of Bahrain and the University of Damascus. Shakir is considered a pioneer in establishing Arab American literature as a genre. Born in 1938 to Lebanese immigrants already in their forties, she wrote in Bint Arab (1997), chronicling her mother’s generation, the earliest wave of immigration from the Arab world, and contrasting it, through oral histories, to later generations of Arab American women. Her short-story collection, Remember Me to Lebanon, won the Arab American Book Award in 2007. Teaching Arabs, Writing Self, begins with recollections of her childhood in Massachusetts. Her Arab Americanism becomes a fresher topic when she teaches literature in Bahrain in 2005 as a Fulbright Scholar. “I’d been expecting a mirror and found a window…. Though, yes, I could still detect a family resemblance,” she writes. Later that year, she goes to Damascus where she lets us get to know the expatriate community and writes more as an American visitor than an Arab seeking her heritage. She lovingly describes a quirky city, albeit under dictatorship, no longer recognizable in daily news reports today.