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Susan Muaddi Darraj: Writing & Literature as Forms of Care

April 14 @ 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm EDT

Award-winning Palestinian-American author and professor shares how writing is her form of caregiving and self-care.

In this moderated discussion, Susan Muaddi Darraj explains how a culture of care features into her career as a writer, mother, and activist. Susan has published several books from the perspective of Palestinian-American mothers living in the U.S., such as A Curious Land, The Inheritance of Exile and chapter book series Farah Rocks for 2nd-5th graders. Her new book, Behind You Is the Sea, is an exciting new novel that gives voice to the diverse residents of a Palestinian-American community in Baltimore. 

From young activists in conflict with their traditional parents to the poor who clean for the rich, Behind You Is the Sea paints a portrait of lives which intersect across divides of class, generation, and religion. Funny and touching, the novel brings us into the homes and lives of three main families: the Baladis, the Salamehs, and the Ammars—Palestinian immigrants who’ve all found a different welcome in America. Their various fates and struggles cause their community dynamic to sizzle and sometimes explode.

Behind You Is the Sea faces stereotypes about Palestinian culture head-on and, shifting perspectives to weave a complex social fabric replete with weddings, funerals, broken hearts, and devastating secrets.

This program is co-presented with the Anthropology of Motherhood project, which seeks to engage in the complex, varied aspects and experiences of motherhood, caregiving, parenting, nurturing, and maternal labor. Using a maternal lens as a starting point, the project seeks to expand upon the idea of a broader culture of care and its possibilities as it intersects with feminism, social justice issues, and activism in the invaluable work of our panelists.

This reading will be followed by a moderated discussion with Fran Flaherty, Sara Tang, and Amy Bowman-McElhone, an audience Q&A, and a book signing. You can purchase your own copy of Behind You Is the Sea at City of Asylum Bookstore

About the Author:

Susan Muaddi Darraj is an award-winning writer of books for adults and children. She won an American Book Award, two Arab American Book Awards, and a Maryland State Arts Council Independent Artists Award. In 2018, she was named a USA Artists Ford Fellow. Her books include her short story collection, A Curious Land, as well as the Farah Rocks children’s book series. She lives in Baltimore, where she teaches creative writing at Harford Community College and Johns Hopkins University. Her new novel, Behind You Is the Sea, was published in January 2024 by HarperVia, and was named best book in January by Apple.

About the Moderators:

Fran Flaherty is the creator and co-curator of Anthropology of Motherhood, and is the Director of the Joseph F. and Helen C. Dyer Arts Center at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. As a first generation immigrant mother from the Philippines and a deaf artist, her work is centered on issues surrounding migrant family relations and assimilation, maternal feminism, disability aesthetics, and social work. Her work is inspired by the care paradigm—a premise that human beings cannot survive alone and the progress of human beings, as a species, flows from our identity as social animals. It is the prospect of this harmony that inspired her to create Anthropology of Motherhood, an ongoing project which elevates the act of care-giving through fine art by transforming mundane objects of caregiving into valuable art pieces such as paintings, sculpture, and mixed media pieces. She also transforms busy public spaces into immersive installations that serve as places of respite for young children and their caregivers and is a member of the #notwhite collective. Her work can be found at Smith College Art Museum, Dyers Art Center, Wyndhams Hotels and Resorts, and Carnegie Mellon University’s Archives. 

Sara Tang (moderator) is a multidisciplinary and visual artist, the Digital Content Curator for Anthropology of Motherhood, and a member of the #notwhite Collective and the JADED PGH Asian American Pacific Islander collective. She has served on the City of Pittsburgh’s Equity Audit Committee, on the Community Advisory Board Council for the Pittsburgh HR/Equity Arts Cohort, and with the PGH Racial Justice Summit. 

Dr. Amy Bowman-McElhone currently serves as the Art Program Director, University Art Gallery Director, and is an Assistant Professor in Art History at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, PA. She curates transdisciplinary, justice-oriented exhibitions and aims to cultivate the gallery as a space for experimentation and dialogue. Previously, she served as the Assistant Vice President of the University of West Florida Historic Trust Museums, and the Director and Chief Curator of the UWF Pensacola Museum of Art where she curated a number of exhibitions including “Stone’s Throw: On Borders, Boundaries and the Beyond” featuring the work of contemporary artists Candice Breitz and Carlos Rolon.

About Your Visit: 

The in-house restaurant 40 North is open for dinner from 5-9pm. Please visit Open Table or call 412-435-1111 to make a reservation.

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April 14
3:30 pm - 4:30 pm EDT
Program Category:


Alphabet City
40 W. North Avenue
Pittsburgh,PA15212United States
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