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Title: Between Empire and Diaspora: Identity Poetics in Contemporary Arab-American Women's Poetry
Author(s): Abdulrahim, Safaa
Supervisor(s): Robinson, Gemma
Marten, Michael
Keywords: Arab-American Studies
Cultural Identity
Arab-American Women's Poetry
Arab-American Feminism
Cultural Translation
Transnational Diaspora
Thrid World Women Feminism
Political Racisim
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: This dissertation aims to contribute to the burgeoning field of Arab-American feminist critique through an exploration of the work of four contemporary Arab-American women poets: Etel Adnan (1925-), a poet and a visual artist and a writer, Naomi Shihab Nye (1952-), poet, a song writer, and a novelist, Mohja Kahf (1967-), a poet, an Islamic feminist critic and author, and Suheir Hammad (1973-), a hip-hop poet and political activist. The study traverses the intersections of stereotypical racial and Orientalist discourses with which these women contend, and which have been further complicated by being shaped against the backdrop of the “War on Terror” and hostility against Arabs, Muslims and Arab-Americans in the post-September 11 era. Hence, the study attempts to examine their poetry as a tool for resistance, and as a space for conciliating the complexities of their hyphenated identities. The last two decades of the twentieth-century saw the rise of a rich body of Arab-American women writing which has elicited increasing academic and critical interest. However, extensive scholarly and critical attention was mainly drawn to novels and non-fiction prose produced by Arab-American women writers as reflected in the huge array of anthologies, journal articles, book reviews and academic studies. Although such efforts aim to research and examine the racial politics that have impacted the community and how it relates to feminist discourses in the United States, they have rarely addressed or researched how the ramifications of these racialised politics and discourses are articulated in Arab-American women’s poetry per se. Informed by a wide range of postcolonial and United States ethnic theory and criticism, feminist discourses of women of colour such Gloria Anzaldúa's borderland theory, and Lisa Lowe's discussions of ethnic cultural formations in addition to transnational feminism, this study seeks to lay the groundwork for a complex analysis of Arab-American feminist poetics, based on both national and transnational literary approaches. The dissertation addresses the following questions: how does the genre of poetry negotiate identity politics and affiliations of belonging in the current polarized and historical moment? How do these women poets challenge the troubling oppressed/exoticised representations of Arab/Muslim women prevalent in the United States mainstream culture? How does each of these poets express their vision of social and political transformation? Emphasising the varying ethnic, religious, national, political, and cultural backgrounds and affiliations of these four poets, this dissertation attempts to defy any notion of the monolithic experience of Arab-American women, and argues for a nuanced understanding of specificity and diversity of Arab-American feminist experiences and articulations. To achieve its aim, the study depicts the historical evolution of Arab women’s poetry in the United States throughout four generations in order to examine the deriving issues and formative elements that contributed to the development of this genre, and also to pinpoint the defining characteristics marking Arab-American women poetry as a cultural production of American women of Arab descent. Through close readings and critical analyses of texts, the dissertation offers an investigation of some of the major themes and issues handled by these Arab-American women to highlight the most persistent tropes that mark this developing literary genre. Eventually, this study shows how literature, and specifically poetry becomes a conduit to investigate Arab-American cultural and sociopolitical conditions. It also offers productive explorations of identities and representations that transcend the rigid essential totalising categorisation of identity, while attempting to forge a new space for cultural translation and social transformation.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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