Monday, December 07, 2009

"Contemporary Arab Thought: Cultural Critique in Comparative Perspective" by E.S. Kassab

A new book by a former (and favorite) professor of mine, the wonderful Elizabeth Suzanne Kassab, has recently been published by Columbia University Press: Contemporary Arab Thought: Cultural Critique in Comparative Perspective

The book is a study of contemporary Arab debates on culture. It examines the analyses presented by prominent Arab thinkers in the second half of the twentieth century regarding questions of cultural malaise, cultural decline and cultural renaissance. It puts these debates in the historical context of modern Arab thought spanning the last two centuries and focuses on the post 1967-defeat (in the war against Israel) period that witnessed a mounting polarization between holistic ideologies on the one hand and self-reflective critiques on the other. It breaks new ground in the understanding of contemporary Arab intellectual life by viewing it from three original perspectives:

1. First by focusing on the self-reflective critical turn at a time when attention has been almost exclusively devoted to the ideological side of this intellectual life, whether islamist or nationalist.

2. Secondly by recognizing and examining the political understanding of the cultural malaise among critical thinkers, an understanding that has been systematically overshadowed by a culturalist reading of the malaise, by actors and observers alike.

3. And thirdly by breaking the isolation to which the production and study of the Arab debates on culture have been hitherto confined, by putting them in a comparative post-colonial perspective. Indeed, more than any other region, the Arab world has been consistently stigmatised with exceptionalism.

Hence the main questions the book explores are the following:

1. How has contemporary Arab critique approached questions of cultural malaise? Which issues has it addressed and what shape has this critique taken?

2. To what extent and in what sense have Arab critical thinkers of the post 1967 era seen the cultural crisis as a political one? How old is this political perception of cultural problems in modern Arab thought and what are its implications for the democratic struggle in the Arab world?

3. How do the concerns expressed and approaches adopted in these Arab debates compare with debates in other post-colonial regions of the world such as Africa and Latin America? What patterns of thought does such a comparison reveal across regions, cultures, religions and races? What does it tell us about the post-colonial nature of the Arab debates and what significance does this telling have for our understanding of contemporary Arab thought?

(From Press Release)

Monday, November 09, 2009

Queer Literary Festival in Mt. Airy

The queer literary community of Philadelphia is at the forefront again in Mt. Airy's second annual Queer Literary Festival at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore on Saturday, November 14, 2009 from 11am to 3:00pm. Diverse selections of prose, poetry, and creative non-fiction will be presented by writers Ashraf Osman, Jane Cassady, Laura Neuman, Nathan Long, Misia Denea, Saida Agostini, Kelli Dunham, Cassendre Xavier, and Janet Mason. The festival is free and open to everyone.

A special collaboration for this year's festival is the partnership of Mt. Airy's independent Big Blue Marble Bookstore and Philadelphia's premiere GBLT bookstore Giovanni's Room. Big Blue Marble Bookstore will give a percentage of the day's proceeds to Giovanni's Room to add to their fundraising efforts for the massive renovation project of the store's building. A schedule of the readings and biographies of the readers are below:
11:00am- Ashraf Osman
11:20am-Jane Cassady
11:40am-Laura Neuman

12:00-12:30pm-Break (Literary Lunch)

12:30pm-Nathan Long
12:50pm-Misia Denea
1:10pm-Saida Agostini

1:30-2:00pm-Break (Open Mic)

2:00pm:Kelli Dunham
2:20pm-Cassendre Xavier
2:40pm: Janet Mason
For bio info on the readers, please check the event listing in the PhillyPoetry Calendar. For more information on the Queer Literary Festival or for picture requests please contact Maleka Fruean, events coordinator: 215-844-1870, maleka(at)bigbluemarblebooks(dot)com.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Symposium: Identity, Community, Race, Sexuality and Philly Poetry

On Sunday, November 8, 2009, I'll be part of the Poetic Arts Performance Project (PAPP) 2nd Symposium on Identity, Community, Race, Ethnicity, Sex, Sexuality and Philly Poetry. The symposium will be moderated by Debrah Morkun, and will include Alyesha Wise, Frank Walsh, and Frank Sherlock.

Where: University City Arts League, 4226 Spruce St.
When: 2:00 - 4:30 pm
Cost: $3.00 (some proceeds to benefit Rubye's Kids)

I hope you can make it!

Friday, October 02, 2009

This Day, Refusing to End

If you were a day, you too would refuse
To walk gently into that good night.
Clinging at the edges of the frame,
You too would have clawed and scraped
Like a brat denied for the first time.

Stopping for a moment, you lift your head,
See the backs of heads bowed in compliance,
In silent anticipation of the end—of day,
Of a week, of something vague and prickly.

The dark gathers at the corners of your vision
Like a bad photo in need of a retouch.
Looking down can’t stop it, nor slow
The ruthless comfort of the night.

The lamps turn a yearning shade of yellow
That curls up your insides fetal and
Wraps you under covers on a couch somewhere.

You try not to slip, not to go down
That familiar road which always ends
With the same hue of blue.

You lift your eyes and let
The cold purple air wash over your face.
Somewhere the crisp smell of laundry
Warms up the sidewalk, a longing
For a hug at the door.

Rabih Alameddine at the Central Library!

One of my all-time favorite authors (and my dear friend), the incredibly talented Rabih Alameddine will be at the Central Library in Philadelphia on Tuesday, October 6, 2009 at 7:30 pm. Rabih will be reading from his latest highly-acclaimed novel, The Hakawati.

The Hakawati takes readers from the shimmering dunes of ancient Egypt to the war-torn streets of 21st-century Lebanon. "If any work of fiction might be powerful enough to transcend the mountain of polemic, historical inquiry, policy analysis, and reportage that stands between the Western reader and the Arab soul, it's this wonder of a book," according to the New York Times Book Review. Alameddine is the author of Koolaids and I, the Divine, as well as the story collection The Perv.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Reading at Media Borough Hall

On Friday, September 25, at 7 pm, I’ll be joining a group of exciting poets and musicians for a reading at the Mansion Parlor of Media Borough Hall (3rd & Jackson St.- Media, PA):
Ashraf Osman
Brian Sammond
Lisa DeVuona (accompanied by Joseph Nocella)

Tom Mullian
Johnny Never
Silver Wind (Jackie Newman & Mike Mascia)
Hosted by Arlene Arlene Bernstein, the formal program will be followed by an Open Mic. Refreshments will be served, and you’ll be able to converse with congenial and interesting people. Come join us & bring your friends! There's lots of Parking!

Co-sponsored by the Media Upper Providence Library & Mad Poets Society.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

SCORCHED Receives 12 Barrymore Award Nominations!

SCORCHED, the Wilma Theater's production of the play by acclaimed Lebanese-Canadian playwright Wajdi Mouawad, received 12 (well-deserved) Barrymore Award nominations, including Outstanding Overall Production of a Play and Outstanding Ensemble in a Play!

Blanka Zizka received a nomination for Outstanding Direction of a Play, and 4 of the actresses received nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play:
  • Jolly Abraham (as Elhame/Sawda)
  • Jacqueline Antaramian (as Jihane/Nawal 40-45)
  • Aadya Bedi (as Nawal 14-19)
  • Janis Dardaris (as Nazira/Nawal 60-65)
The production also received 4 nominations for artistic production:
  • Outstanding Original Music by Amir ElSaffar
  • Outstanding Set Design by Ola Maslik
  • Outstanding Lighting Design by Thom Weaver
  • Outstanding Sound Design by Jorge Cousineau
And last but not least, the exhibition hosted in the lobby of the theater during the running of the play received a nomination for Award for New Approaches to Collaborations between The Wilma Theater & Moore College of Art and Design.

(Click here for the overall list of nominees.)

Congratulations to the entire Scorched team! It was such an honor and privilege to be even a small part of this production. Thank you!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Life, in its grandeur,
flickers at the corners of my eyes.
Arms screaming wide,
chests heaving to the skies,
the salty smell of warm sweat
threatening to break out;
I hear a buzz,
a hum, an excuse of being.
Life is elsewhere,
some other time, somebody else,
a fantasy of pixels and skin.
Not me—
this doesn’t count.
And yet the ticker never quells.
All that is left is to observe:
elongated moments,
the relentlessness of nightfall,
others living.
The dead recede
into a memory of features
and stories half-recalled,
less vivid than a dream.
Tomorrow I’ll remember you:
your weathered face, your thinning hair
matted with sweat and anger,
sitting on the kitchen sofa,
the paint chipping off its cheap metal frame,
its florid fabric heavy with the weight
of too many tales unfurled.
And the silence you left behind,
echoing cold off the terrazzo floors.

This time I didn’t visit you
because you aren’t there.
I hate to think of you watching
all this and longing.
It’s the longing, always the longing…
Like I long for this smell
antiseptic as a vinyl hospital hallway
under fluorescent light:
brash, ominous and thumping.
At the end of the hallway
a window looks over the parking lot—
this is what you’re missing:
another day coming to an end,
the hazy twilight of an ugly city.
And this—my anger,
always the anger,
at your not being there.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Blend @ Blue Bananas Café

Poetic Arts Performance Project Presents:
Blend @ Blue Bananas Café
(A new series featuring poetry, spoken word, and music;
1st Thursdays of every month)

Ashraf Osman & Brian Markley
May 7th, 2009 @ 7:30 – 9:30 PM
$5 for entry

Blue Bananas Café is located next to the Laff House, 223 South Street, Philadelphia PA. Their website features their tasty menu as well as directions to the restaurant:

Ashraf Osman was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon and has been living in Philadelphia since 2002 where he works as an architect. Ashraf has been engaged in online poetry since 2002: in addition to his award-winning personal poetry blog, arch.memory, Ashraf hosts a website of Philadelphia poetry links and calendars called His poetry has been featured in the Mad Poets Review, Comstock Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal and Islamica magazine, and has been selected for inclusion in several anthologies including Queering Language and The Other Voices International Project.

Brian Markley is an emerging song writer and musician from South Jersey. While being classically trained on the trumpet for over twenty years, Brian has studied and explored other instruments such as the guitar, mandolin, piano, and harmonica, as well as various tribal instruments such as the didgeridoo and wooden flute. His musical journey has taken him on both American and European tours and has afforded him opportunities to work with and learn from accomplished musicians such as Frank Foster, Dennis DeBlasio, Maynard Ferguson, Nathan Davis, Toby Lightman, and other rising South Jersey artists. These experiences have inspired him to pursue a very eclectic approach to music incorporating acoustic, funk, spoken word, bluegrass, political folk, hip-hop, reggae, rock, country, blues, and of course jazz.

* To sign up for the open mic, or if you have any questions please email
* Blue Bananas Café can validate parking at Abbott Square Parking Lot, 3rd & South. ($4.00 to park all night!)

Friday, May 01, 2009

This Sunday: Playgrounds for Palestine's Gala Dinner & Concert for Gaza, featuring sublime Lebanese Singer, May Nasr

Playgrounds for Palestine is hosting a Gala for the benefit of the children of Gaza. The evening will feature a concert by renowned Lebanese singer/songwriter May Nasr. (You can listen to her music online. Her voice is mesmerizing!) Trained by Zaki Nassif, a composer for Fairuz, she is one of the few artists who can truly sing Fairuz songs with their full meaning and liveliness. It was the knowledge of this potential that brought Zaki Nassif out of retirement upon hearing May’s voice.

Because we want to bring joy to children in Gaza.
Because we believe that they deserve to play.
Because they have suffered what no child should suffer.
Because we have so much to give, even in this economy.
Because building playgrounds is an act of Love.

Sunday, May 3rd @ 4-9pm

ACE Conference Center
800 Ridge Pike
Lafayette Hill, PA 19444

How much:
Adults: $85
Children, Seniors, Students: $50

What else:
Dinner, raffles, silent auction, children's activities, music, community, awards, and more.

For more information, go to or call 267.391.5386.

Monday, March 23, 2009

And Yet

Just because the stitches in my back are itching
doesn’t mean they want to heal.
You should know better,
you who’s been itching for years
and yet…

It flashed on the screen
in the corner of the room
like the shape of a desire that was.
You almost recognize it,
masked like the face of an old lover
by time.
The room brightened a bit
and everything darkened around,
like silhouettes against a sinking sun.
You stood there, paused in half-turn,
and stared—zipper undone, index finger
on the remote’s “Power” button—
and yet…

The rest of the night packs itself away,
a force of habit:
mugs in the sink, keys in the lock,
phone off and plugged,
the routines of a day ready to turn in.
Gingerly you lift the back of your hand
to your face and inhale.
At that point you don’t care
if it makes you nauseous,
if it smells like spring
or just the soil beneath.
You fill your lungs hoping
—you’re not sure what for—
and yet…

Monday, March 02, 2009

"Scorched" at the Wilma

Today I had the great opportunity to see a preview of the Wilma theater's upcoming East Coast Premiere of Scorched, a tour de force from highly-acclaimed Lebanese-Canadian playwright Wajdi Mouawad. Directed by the Wilma's incomparable co-Artistic Director Blanka Zizka as part of the theater's 30th Anniversary Season, Scorched is a deeply affecting play of mythical proportions. Superbly cast, the production boasts lush original music, a brilliantly minimalist stage set and inspired artistic direction. It's only the second U.S. production of the play, and it will be playing at the Wilma from March 4th till the 29th. And it is a must-see show: if you are to see only one play this year, make it this one!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Fabulous Fundraiser for the Courageous People of Gaza

Saturday February 28 from 5-8pm
@ Calvary Church
(48th & Baltimore Streets - Philadelphia, PA)

Featuring: Middle Eastern Food

Presentations: Dr. Labiq Syed & Dr. Labib Syed, brothers out of John Hopkins & members of the Islamic Medical Association of North America, who recently traveled overseas to provide care in war-torn Gaza and will share information about their trip.

Informational Loop Presentation created by Aine Fox

Spoken Word: Poets Aysha El Shamayleh & Ashraf Osman

Music by: Paddy Corcoran (of Paddy and the Hostages)

$10 - General Admission
$25 & Above - Solidarity
$5 for unemployed & students

Call 215-724-1618 or email for ticket information or to make reservations.

All proceeds go to the Emergency Gaza Appeal of the United Palestinian Appeal

Philadelphia International Action Center
EON (End Oppression Now)
PRAWN (Philadelphia Regional Anti-War Network)
FIST (Fight Imperialism Stand Together)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

azure letters

Joe Bolton wrote in Departure:
"And if poetry is a bond between
Two hearts, it is a bond too frail:
That night words failed, I too, was lost--"
Poetry may be a frail bond, but sometimes it is the strongest we have. Which is why, when we are lost, a good friend finds us in a poem...
azure letters
by Katy Acheson
Thank you, dear, again and again...