University of Minnesota
Voices From the Gaps

Voices From the Gaps' home page.

Elmaz Abinader

Biography - Criticism

Born in 1954 in a small town in Pennsylvania, Elmaz Abinader has always felt as if she lives in two worlds: one in her home and the other outside the doors. Her home life was very much rooted in Lebanese tradition. She, her parents, and five siblings ate Arabic food, spoke in Arabic, and were brought up with Lebanese sensibilities. Her childhood activities contrasted with those of the other children in her community. Instead of playing with Barbies or gossiping about boys, Abinader and her siblings helped out at home or in one of the family's stores, attended a Catholic church twice daily, and worked hard at school. Her parents believed in, "Devotion to God, obedience to our parents, and good grades in school. A sliver of an error in any of these areas was punished with swiftness and severity" (Abinader, Just Off Main Street).

Although her home life was relatively happy, at school Abinader and her siblings were often teased and bullied because of their ethnicity. At college, Abinader decided to embrace her heritage and began to write about her family's history. However, her writings remained private until she discovered the book The Woman Warrior, in which Maxine Hong Kingston expresses the feelings of loneliness and struggle to find a cultural identity with which Abinader was familiar. Abinader's first published book, Children of the Roojme: A Family's Journey from Lebanon, is about cultural belonging and family strength.

In addition to Children of the Roojme, Abinader has published a collection of poems, In The Country of My Dreams, which won the Josephine Miles PEN Oakland award in 2000. She has also written and performed three plays: "When Silence is Frightening," "Under The Ramadan Moon," and "Country of Origin," which won two "Drammies," Portland's Critic's Circle Awards for Theater. "Country of Origin" is a one-woman show portraying the lives of three Arab-American females and their struggles with cultural pressures.

Elmaz Abinader is also deeply involved with political activism and frequently writes articles about issues affecting Arabs and Arab-Americans. She is opposed to the U.S. war with Iraq and spoke out against U.S. atrocities in the Middle East in a 2002 interview with the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She also published an article on the Living Issue, post 9/11 website in which she writes about her experiences as an Arab-American after 9/11 and her fears for the future. Other work includes "For Arab Americans, Pain in Familiar Faces," an essay published on the Refuse and Resist website about the suffering in Palestine, and "In The Country of My Dreams. . . For Marcel Khalife & Khalil Gibran," in which she offers her support for songwriter Marcel Khalife.

Elmaz Abinader teaches creative writing at Mills College. She is also a resident and hosts summer writing workshops on memoir and creative non-fiction at the University of San Francisco's Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation, which sponsors workshops for published and developing writers. She also participates in the Hurston-Wright Writers' Week West. One of her priorities when not doing her own work is helping young writers of color learn to express themselves.

Abinader's outlook on life is visible in an interview with the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Sylvia W. Chan. Throughout the interview, Abinader stresses that faith and action are crucial to everything she does. "You have to believe that if you say something, someone's going to listen," she says. "And faith is the only thing that's going to keep you going. Then, you have to do your work. "

Selected Bibliography

Works by the Author

Works about the Author

Related Links

Elmaz Abinader's Official Site
This is the official website for Elmaz Abinader. Includes biographical information as well as information about her works and appearances. It also includes a link to her e-mail. I found that she was very good about replying.

Just Off Main Street
This essay is part of the U.S. State Department's publication, Writers on America; it is about her experiences growing up and why she became a writer.

Arab Women Poets
This site has a brief biography and excerpts of her poetry.

Pain in Familiar Faces
An article discussing American response to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Children of Al-Mahjar: Arab-American Literature Spans a Century
An essay by Elmaz Abinader on the history of Arab-American literature.

In the Country of My Dreams
A poem by Abinader supporting Marcel Khalife, songwriter, who was accused of blasphemy by the Beirut government. Charges were later dropped.

The Voices Writing Workshop
The homepage for the Summer Writing Workshop of Voices of Our Nations Foundation at University of San Francisco. Includes information on Abinader's workshop and how to sign up.

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This page was researched and submitted by: Kate Piscator on 2/27/03 and edited and updated by Lauren Curtright on 8/3/04.