The Art of the Memoir

Headshots and names of Maytha Alhassen, Randa Jarrar, and Mortada Gzar with multicolor ripped paper on bottom edge

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This event is part of the 2021 PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature. Visit pen.org/festival to learn more and get tickets for other events.

The candor of Randa Jarrar’s and Mortada Gzar’s recent memoirs (Love Is an Ex-Country and I’m in Seattle, Where Are You?, respectively) can sting and mend with equal power, as the authors depict how the self takes shape within and against the historical, political, and social conditions of given locations: whether for Gzar, in Basra, Baghdad, and Seattle, or for Jarrar, on the open road between California and Connecticut. Coming together for a talk that takes deep dives into their distinct and self-defined styles, they show the bravery intrinsic to memoir.

Randa Jarrar’s works “are filled with pointed, violent details that stick in your mind. . . but beyond violence, Jarrar writes about pleasure and healing, and her own power with the same ferocity” (Harper’s Bazaar). In Love Is an Ex-Country, she reclaims the great American road trip as a trope for exploring the self. As she moves between wide open landscapes fraught with history, she investigates her relationship to erasure, sexuality, invisibility, and power as an Arab American woman. Iraqi author Mortada Gzar’s I’m in Seattle, Where Are You?—a memoir that’s “hard to put down and hard to forget” (Publishers Weekly)—documents a gay man’s journey to self-discovery from occupied Iraq to the United States; he migrates in search of his lover only to face threats of racism and xenophobia in countries old and new. The authors will be joined in conversation by historian, journalist, poet, organizer, and mending practitioner, Dr. Maytha Alhassen.

This digital event will start at 8:30pm ET / 5:30pm PT. If you have any questions, please visit our FAQs.

Presented in collaboration with Radius of Arab American Writers, an organization that provides mentoring, community, and support for Arab American/SWANA writers, and Skylight Books.

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This program is made possible in part by a grant from the
City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.

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Randa Jarrar headshotRanda Jarrar is the author of the memoir Love Is An Ex-Country, the novel A Map of Home, and the collection of stories Him, Me, Muhammad Ali. She is a performer who has appeared in short independent films and in Hulu’s Ramy. A recent recipient of a Creative Capital Award, Jarrar lives in Los Angeles.

Mortada Gzar headshot Iraqi novelist, filmmaker, journalist, and visual artist Mortada Gzar was born in Kuwait in 1982, grew up in Basra, Iraq, and now lives in Seattle, WA. He earned a degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Baghdad and was later a member of The International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Gzar is the author of four novels, a children’s book, and a short story collection; he has also illustrated two books for children. English translations of his work have appeared in Words Without Borders, World Literature Today, and Iraq + 100: The First Anthology of Science Fiction to Have Emerged from Iraq, and his journalism and political cartoons are featured in Arabic newspapers. Gzar’s animated films have been featured in international film festivals, his film Language was awarded a grant by the Doha Film Institute, and he created the Seattle Arab Film Festival hosted by the Northwest Film Forum.

Maytha Alhassen headshot Dr. Maytha Alhassen primarily sees her labor as that of a freedom doula and an engaged wit/h/ness reviving the traditions of the feral femme. She is a historian, journalist, poet, organizer, and mending practitioner. As a journalist, she worked as an on-air host for Al Jazeera English and The Young Turks, in addition to field reporting for outlets such as CNN, HuffPost, Mic, Boston Review, The Baffler, and CounterPunch. In 2017, she received her Ph.D. in American studies and ethnicity from the University of Southern California and gave a TED Talk poem on her ancestral relationship to Syria as part of an awarded TED Residency. As a scholar, she co-edited a book on the Arab uprisings, Demanding Dignity: Young Voices from the Front Lines of the Arab Revolutions, and wrote Haqq and Hollywood: Illuminating 100 Years of Muslim Tropes and How to Transform Them.

Alhassen has co-founded multiple social justice organizations, including Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, the Social Justice Institute at Occidental College, Believers Bail Out (a Muslim abolition group), and in the wake of George Floyd’s brutal murder, the Arabs for Black Lives collective. As a mender, Alhassen has facilitated healing workshops infused with art, trauma-informed yoga, mediation, and reiki to displaced people in Greece, Turkey, along the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. prisons, and in fugitive spaces.


About Radius of Arab American Writers

Established in 1993, Radius of Arab American Writers (RAWI) is a national organization that provides mentoring, community, and support for Arab American writers and those with roots in the Arabic-speaking world and diaspora.

About Skylight Books

Skylight Books is a general bookstore serving the historic Los Angeles neighborhoods of Hollywood, Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Echo Park, and Downtown. Located in the shadow of Griffith Park and its iconic Observatory, our Los Feliz neighborhood is host to many independently-owned shops, restaurants, and movie theaters. Our curated selection features the best of literary fiction, graphic novels, children’s books, California history and culture, political and social sciences, essays and nonfiction, and books on art, photography, film, and music. We also feature hand-picked magazines and zines, along with a selection of stationery and gifts. Our events program is nationally recognized and features major touring authors, local favorites, and debuts.

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