Deema Shehabi: Poet and editor

December 31, 2006
Deema Shehabi: Poet and editor

Acclaimed Palestinian-American poet and editor Deema Shehabi aspires to offer poetry that is both aesthetically crafted and that tells the Palestinian narrative. "People have a tendency to dehumanize one another," Shehabi says. "The Palestinian experience provides a vastness and a broad context that can reaffirm our human values because it constantly challenges narrowly constructed notions of nationalism, patriotism, and the like."

Shehabi was born in Kuwait in 1970. She came to the United States in 1988 to attend Tufts University, where she received a BA in history and international relations. In 1993, she received an MS in Journalism from Boston University.

Shehabi says her poetry is "inspired by a sense of loss, combined with the tragedy of the Palestinian experience." Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous literary journals includingThe Atlanta Review, Bat City Review, Crab Orchard, The Mississippi Review, Drunken Boat, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and the Kenyon Review. She has published works in anthologies such as The Poetry of Arab Women and Contemporary Arab-American Poetry and has been nominated for a Pushcart prize. Deema Shehabi has also worked in writing and editing for several book publishers and magazines, including Ulysses Press, Nuclear Times, and most recently, Veggie Lifewhere she was managing editor.

Shehabi's father hails from Jerusalem, and her mother is from Gaza. She has visited both Palestinian cities with her family on numerous occasions. Her earliest memory was the contrast between the sparse landscapes of Kuwait and the "lushness of the orange and lemon groves" that she saw in Gaza when she visited there. "It was heaven," she says. 

Deema Shehabi also recalls an experience that took place at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv when she visited at age 9. "When we arrived, I could see my uncle waiting behind the glass on the other side to greet us" she explains. "At the same time I was aware of this intense tension between my mother and the Israeli interrogator." Shehabi says that the two extreme emotions encapsulated in that moment -- the excitement about seeing relatives combined with the palpable hostility between the interrogator and her mother -- left its mark. The experience even informs her writing today.

Shehabi recently co-authored a book of poems with Marilyn Hacker called Diaspo/Renga, which was triggered by events in Gaza.

Shehabi is also Vice President for the Radius of Arab-American Writers (RAWI). She plans to establish a contemporary reading series for Arab Americans in the future.

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