Article by Laura Milcarzyk | Owl Staff
As a little girl, HCC English Professor Susan Muaddi-Darraj spent countless hours writing down stories in composition notebooks. When she was ten years old, her parents bought her a used typewriter to help organize the booklets she had begun creating. Yet, her dream was not to be a writer, but a teacher.
Darraj grew up in South Philadelphia. Both of her parents are immigrants from the Middle East who met in America and married, making her childhood a mixture of both cultures. Darraj’s parents briefly considered not sending her to college, since they also had three male children.
Growing up, Darraj noticed an absence of stories depicting life as an Arab-American girl. “I think anyone who was raised in two cultures knows what I am talking about. There are different forces that pull you in different directions.”
She adds, “When I was younger, I was never able to find literature that spoke to my experiences of being both Arab and American. The first book with which I identified with — where I said, ‘This is a true depiction of the life of an Arab woman’ — was Ahdaf Soueif’s novel, In the Eye of the Sun. I didn’t find that book until I was in my twenties.”
Darraj has since begun adding her own voice to an ever-widening circle of Arab-American literature. She hopes “to tell people good stories, real stories about Arabs and Arab-Americans, to combat the stereotypes that people have now of those of us of Middle Eastern descent.”
Her book, The Inheritance of Exile, published in 2007, does exactly that. It is a true to life story of four young women and the unique challenges they face as Arab-Americans. Throughout, Darraj used many of her own childhood experiences, such as when her parents bought her the typewriter.
In 2011, the State Department chose Darraj’s book to be translated into Arabic for the Middle East—an honor given to one American author every year.
They also sent her on a speaking tour in Amman, Jordan, where she spoke at universities, for writer’s groups, and on a popular morning talk show called Al-Rouiah (The Opinion).
“It was a great trip, and the book was well-received,” says Darraj. “Many Arabs don’t know what life is like for other Arabs who have immigrated to the United States. Arab-Americans have very different experiences and world views than Arabs who live in the Middle East.”
Darraj continues to make writing a part of her life by rising every morning at 5:00 a.m. and writing until 7:00 a.m., resulting in her soon to be published collection of short stories. The stories span generations of Palestinian women as they transition to the United States.
Look for Darraj’s latest book, A Curious Land: Stories from Home, published by the University of Massachusetts Press and winner of the 2014 Grace Paley Fiction Prize.