Ibtisam Barakat: Writer, Poet and Educator

November 19, 2014
Ibtisam Barakat: Writer, Poet and Educator

Born in Beit Hanina, near Jerusalem, Ibtisam Barakat's (Pronunciation) life was turned upside down at age three, when Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem following the 1967 war. "I will never know what my life would have been like without having grown up under Israeli occupation," says writer, poet and educator Barakat. "This influenced me in every way. And it made me sensitive to all the issues of injustice that exist in the world."

Growing up with war and occupation is the focus of Barakat's memoir, Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood, released in 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. In 2007, Booklist named it one of the top ten biographies for youth and it was listed as an American Library Association Notable, and in 2008 it won the International Reading Association's Best Non-Fiction Book Award for Children and Young Adults. "At least 200,000 Palestinians fled their homes in the Six Day War," she says. "My family and I were among them. So I wanted to write this story for the children of that night, including the young girl I was, and for children everywhere, especially those denied a childhood."

After earning her bachelor's degree from Birzeit University in the West Bank, Barakat moved to New York in 1986, where she interned with The Nation. Later, she earned Masters in Journalism and Human Development and Family Studies, both from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Beginning at a young age, Barakat has used writing for communicating, as well as for self-understanding. "My writing is a clear and spacious window," she says. "I know whether it's morning, or it's night, whether it's a rainy day or a summer day, and whether it's a season of freedom outside and inside or a season of fear, all through what I see reflected in my writing."

Barakat taught language ethics at Stephens College in 2002, and her work has been published by Simon and Schuster, Pocket Books, Random House, Scholastic, Weekly Reader Corporation, and elsewhere. She is the founder of the Write Your Life seminars, "where people take the time to explore their life stories, and to turn various elements into literature and art -- poems, letters, essays, paintings, songs, plays, short stories, or humor pieces. 

"I find it especially important to encourage people from under-privileged groups to find their voices and speak up," Barakat explains. "Given the harsh climate of humanity at this time, it is the responsibility and privilege of all of us to contribute our stories toward the composition of a book of life and history that represents all."

Barakat's second book released in 2016, Balcony on the Moon, Coming of Age in Palestine is a companion book for her first.