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My first grouping, the “Prophets of Dissent,” suggests that Muslim works in the Black Arts Movement (BAM)

are the first set of writings in American literature to voice a cultural position identifiable as Muslim. Contemporary

Muslim writing that takes the achievements of the BAM as an important literary influence also belongs here

 

 

Teaching Diaspora Literature

Muslim American Literature as an Emerging Field
By Mohja Kahf

 

Is there such a thing as Muslim American literature (MAL)? I argue that there is: It begins with the Muslims of the Black Arts Movement (1965–75). The Autobiography of Malcolm X is one of its iconic texts; it includes American Sufi writing, secular ethnic novels, writing by immigrant and second-generation Muslims, and religious American Muslim literature.

Many of the works I would put into this category can and do also get read in other categories, such as African American, Arab American, and South Asian literature, “Third World” women’s writing, diasporic Muslim literature in English, and so forth.

While the place of these works in other categories cannot be denied, something is gained in reading them together as part of an American Muslim cultural landscape. Like Jewish American literature by the 1930s, Muslim American literature is in a formative stage. It will be interesting to see how it develops (and who will be its Philip Roth!)

I suggest the following typology of MAL only as a foothold, a means of bringing a tentative order to the many texts, one that should be challenged, and maybe ultimately dropped altogether.

My first grouping, the “Prophets of Dissent,” suggests that Muslim works in the Black Arts Movement (BAM) are the first set of writings in American literature to voice a cultural position identifiable as Muslim. Contemporary Muslim writing that takes the achievements of the BAM as an important literary influence also belongs here, and is characterized similarly by its “outsider”status, moral critique of mainstream American values, and often prophetic, visionary tone.

In contrast, the writers of what I call “the Multi-Ethnic Multitudes” tend to enjoy “insider” status in American letters, often entering through MFA programs and the literary establishment, getting published through trade and university book industries, garnering reviews in the mainstream press. They do not share an overall aesthetic but are individual writers of various ethnicities and a wide range of secularisms and spiritualities, and indeed I question my placing them all in one group, and do so temporarily only for the sake of convenience.

On the other hand, my third group, the “New American Transcendentalists,” appears to cohere, in aesthetic terms, as writers who share a broad Sufi cultural foundation undergirding their literary work. Their writings often show familiarity with the Sufi poets of several classical Muslim literatures (e.g., in Turkish, Farsi, Arabic, Urdu), as well as with American Transcendentalists of the nineteenth century, and that which tends toward the spiritual and the ecstatic in modern American poetry.

Finally, the “New Pilgrims” is my term for a loose grouping of writers for whom Islam is not merely a mode of dissent, cultural background, or spiritual foundation for their writing, but its aim and explicit topic. Of the four groups, the New Pilgrims are the ones who write in an overtly religious mode and motivation, like Ann Bradstreet, Cotton Mather, and the Puritans of early American history. This does not prevent them from being capable of producing great literature, any more than it prevented the great Puritan writers.

Here is an example of just a few writers in each category, by no means a comprehensive list:

Prophets of Dissent

From the Black Arts Movement:

Marvin X, whose Fly to Allah (1969) is possibly the first book of poems published in English by a Muslim American author.

Sonia Sanchez, whose A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women (1974) is the work of her Muslim period.

Amiri Baraka, whose A Black Mass (2002) [1966] renders the Nation of Islam’s Yacoub genesis theology into drama. As with Sanchez, the author was Muslim only briefly but the influence of the Islamic period stretches over a significant part of his overall production.

Later Prophets of Dissent include:

Calligraphy of Thought, the Bay area poetry venue for young “Generation M” Muslim American spoken word artists who today continue in the visionary and dissenting mode of the BAM.

Suheir Hammad, Palestinian New Yorker, diva of Def Poetry Jam (on Broadway and HBO), whose tribute to June Jordan in her first book of poetry, Born Palestinian, Born Black (1996), establishes her line of descent from the BAM, at least as one (major) influence on
her work.

El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X) is an iconic figure for this mode of Muslim American writing and, indeed, for many writers in all four categories.

Multi-Ethnic Multitudes

Kashmiri American poet Agha Shahid Ali, an influential figure in the mainstream American poetry scene, with a literary prize named after him at the University of Utah, brought the ghazal into fashion in English so that it is now taught among other forms in MFA programs.

Naomi Shihab Nye, Palestinian American, likewise a “crossover” poet whose work enjoys prominence in American letters, takes on Muslim content in a significant amount of her work.

Sam Hamod, an Arab midwesterner who was publishing poetry in journals at the same time as Marvin X.

Nahid Rachlin’s fiction has been published since well before the recent wave of literature by others who, like her, are Iranian immigrants.

Mustafa Mutabaruka, an African American Muslim, debut novel Seed (2002).

Samina Ali, midwesterner of Indian parentage, debut novel Madras on Rainy Days (2004), was featured on the June 2004 cover of Poets & Writers.

Khaled Hosseini, debut novel The Kite Runner (2003).

Michael Muhammad Knight, a Muslim of New York Irish Catholic background, whose punk rock novel The Taqwacores (2004) delves deeply into Muslim identity issues.

There are a number of journals where Muslim American literature of various ethnicities can be found today, among them Chowrangi, a Pakistani American magazine out of New Jersey, and Mizna, an Arab American poetry magazine out of Minneapolis.

New American Transcendentalists

Daniel (Abd al-Hayy) Moore is an excellent example of this mode of Muslim American writing. California-born, he published as a Beat poet in the early sixties, became a Sufi Muslim, renounced poetry for a decade, then renounced his renouncement and began publishing again, prolifically and with a rare talent. His Ramadan Sonnets (City Lights, 1986) is a marriage of content and form that exemplifies the “Muslim/American” simultaneity of Muslim American art.

The Rumi phenomenon: apparently the most read poet in America is a Muslim. He merits mention for that, although technically I am not including literature in translation. Then again, why not? As with so many other of my limits, this is arbitrary and only awaits someone to
make a case against it.

Journals publishing poetry in this mode include The American Muslim, Sufi, Qalbi, and others.

New American Pilgrims

Pamela Taylor writes Muslim American science fiction. Iman Yusuf writes “Islamic romance.” This group of writers is not limited to genre writers, however. Dasham Brookins writes and performs poetry and maintains a website, MuslimPoet.com,  where poets such as Samantha Sanchez post. Umm Zakiyya (pseud.) has written a novel, If I Should Speak (2001), about a young Muslim American and her roommates in college.

Writers in this group also come from many ethnicities but, unlike those in my second category, come together around a more or less coherent, more or less conservative Muslim identity.

Websites tend to ban erotica and blasphemy, for example. The Islamic Writers Alliance, a group formed by Muslim American women, has just put out its first anthology. Major published authors have yet to emerge in this grouping, but there is no reason to think they will not eventually do so.

My criteria for Muslim American literature are a flexible combination of three factors: Muslim authorship. Including this factor, however vague or tenuous, prevents widening the scope to the point of meaninglessness, rather than simply including any work about Muslims by an author with no biographical connection to the slightest sliver of Muslim identity (such as Robert Ferrigno with his recent dystopian novel about a fanatical Muslim takeover of America). It is a cultural, not religious, notion of Muslim that is relevant. A “lapsed Muslim” author, as one poet on my roster called himself, is still a Muslim author for my purposes. I am not interested in levels of commitment or practice, but in literary Muslimness.

Language and aesthetic of the writing.

In a few cases, there is a deliberate espousal of an aesthetic that has Islamic roots, such as the Afrocentric Islamic aesthetic of the Muslim authors in the Black Arts Movement.

Relevance of themes or content.

If the Muslim identity of the author is vague or not explicitly professed, which is often the case with authors in the “Multi-Ethnic Multitudes,” but the content itself is relevant to Muslim American experience, I take that as a signal that the text is choosing to enter the conversation of Muslim American literature and ought to be included.

In defining boundaries for research that could become impossibly diffuse, I choose to look mainly at fiction and poetry, with autobiography and memoir writings selectively included. I have not included writings in languages other than English, although there are Muslims in America who write in Arabic, Urdu, and other languages. I have looked at the twentieth century onward, and there is archival digging to be done in earlier periods: the Spanish colonial era may yield Muslim writing, and we already know that some enslaved Muslims in the nineteenth century have left narratives. More research is needed. If one expands the field from “literature” to “Muslim American culture,” one can also include Motown, rap, and hip-hop lyrics by Muslim artists, screenplays such as the Muslim American classic The Message by the late Syrian American producer Mustapha Aqqad, books written for children, sermons, essays, and other genres.

There are pleasures and patterns that emerge from reading this profusion of disparate texts under the rubric of Muslim American cultural narrative. It is time! I hope, as this field emerges, that others will do work in areas I have left aside in this brief initial exploration.

Mohja Kahf (Comparative Literature, University of Arkansas) is the author of Western Representations of the Muslim Woman: From Termagant to Odalisque (1999), E-mails from Scheherazad (poetry, 2003), and The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf (novel, 2006).

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On Being Muslim in America (Interview)

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

Fiction

#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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Hopes and Prospects

By Noam Chomsky

In this urgent new book, Noam Chomsky surveys the dangers and prospects of our early twenty-first century. Exploring challenges such as the growing gap between North and South, American exceptionalism (including under President Barack Obama), the fiascos of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Israeli assault on Gaza, and the recent financial bailouts, he also sees hope for the future and a way to move forward—in the democratic wave in Latin America and in the global solidarity movements that suggest "real progress toward freedom and justice." Hopes and Prospects is essential reading for anyone who is concerned about the primary challenges still facing the human race. "This is a classic Chomsky work: a bonfire of myths and lies, sophistries and delusions. Noam Chomsky is an enduring inspiration all over the world—to millions, I suspect—for the simple reason that he is a truth-teller on an epic scale. I salute him." —John Pilger

In dissecting the rhetoric and logic of American empire and class domination, at home and abroad, Chomsky continues a longstanding and crucial work of elucidation and activism . . .the writing remains unswervingly rational and principled throughout, and lends bracing impetus to the real alternatives before us.—
Publisher's Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 27 February 2010

 

 

 

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