Seen (س) Jeem (ج )Podcast
Center for Arab American Studies, UM-Dearborn
Sally Howell, Director of the Center for Arab American Studies (CAAS) at UM-Dearborn, and Ghassan Abou-Zeineddine, Associate Professor of English Literature at UM-Dearborn, originally pitched a project that would bring contemporary Arab American writers to Dearborn for live readings, and which would open the space up for amateur writers to share their work as well. CAAS has co-sponorered the Arab American Book Awards presented by the Arab American National Museum in the past, which enabled them to bring several of the winners to speak on campus, which formed the nucleus of this idea. They had planned to co-host the series at the Mardigian Library on the UM-Dearborn campus – which functions as a thriving community space. Not only were the live events intended to draw attention to the work of the writers, but they were also intended to make more young Arab Americans in the neighborhood aware of the creative writing and other opportunities available at the university.
When the pandemic hit Howell and Abou-Zeineddine, like so many others, had to pivot to figure out how they could still find a way to reach their target audience. Live readings were out but they realized a podcast would lend itself well to both the circumstances of the pandemic, and to the medium of writing.
“I love teaching Arab American writers,” Howell says. “There are so many brilliant and thoughtful writers whose work touches on all the important issues we address in our classes. With this project we were hoping to bring together young aspiring writers from Dearborn and Detroit with these same literary figures. Hopefully, the podcast will still enable us to do this – to connect our students, along with a much larger national audience – with the writers who have most inspired us.”
Howell and her team call this podcast series Seen (س) Jeem (ج ), which is Arabic for Q and A. Season One of the series features interviews and conversations with 15 poets, novelists and essayists about their latest work. Their first episode is an interview with Iraqi American poet, Dunya Mikhail. Mikhail was born in Baghdad and earned a BA at the University of Baghdad, and she worked as a translator and journalist for the Baghdad Observer before being placed on Saddam Hussein’s enemies list. Her first book published in English, The War Works Hard (2005), translated by Elizabeth Winslow, won the PEN Translation Award, was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize, and was selected as one of the 25 Best Books of 2005 by the New York Public Library. Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea (2009), which Mikhail co-translated with Elizabeth Winslow, won the Arab American Book Award.
“The Seen Jeem podcast showcases some of the most exciting writers in the burgeoning field of Arab American literature and demonstrates the diverse range of the Arab American experience,” said Abou-Zeineddine. “Our archive of interviews will serve as a record of how far Arab American literature has come (and is evolving) since its founders, Kahlil Gibran and Ameen Rihani, began publishing their work in the early twentieth century.”
The project was produced in collaboration with the Arab American National Museum and other writers in season one include Detroit-based writer Alise Alousi, the poet Safia Elhillo and investigative journalist Massoud Nayoun.
Full episodes can be found here.
Photos by Austin Thomason/Michigan News.
The Seen Jeem project team below (L-R):
Mohamad Jaafar, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan-Dearborn in Communication and Political Science. He joined the Halal Metropolis team as a media assistant and editor in 2020. He is a producer and the editor of the Seen Jeem Podcast. His background and experience are centered around digital storytelling for institutions of higher learning with a specific interest in stories related to liberal arts students, donor impact, and non-classroom learning experiences. He is also involved in human rights work and advocacy.
Asma Baban, a Research Assistant at the Center of Arab American Studies and Project Manager of the Halal Metropolis project at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. She is also a Producer and Web Designer of the Seen Jeem podcast. She graduated from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in 2017 with an interdisciplinary degree focusing on anthropology, sociology, and history. Her work has focused on engaging public audiences with the stories of Metro Detroit’s Arab and Muslim immigrant and refugee communities.
Sally Howell, Director of the Center for Arab American Studies (CAAS) at UM-Dearborn and project lead.
Ghassan Abou-Zeineddine, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, where he teaches creative writing and Arab American literature. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Georgia Review, Witness, Pleiades, TriQuarterly, Fiction International, The Common, Epiphany, and the Iron Horse Literary Review, among other places. He is co-editor of the creative nonfiction anthology Hadha Baladuna: Arab American Narratives of Boundary and Belonging, which will be published by Wayne State University Press in June 2022. Ghassan lives with his wife and daughter in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Diana Abouali, Director of the Arab American National Museum (AANM) in Dearborn, Michigan. Her career has straddled higher education, cultural heritage, and museum work. She has held a number of positions including assistant professor in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Literatures (now Middle Eastern Studies) at Dartmouth College; head of research and collections at the Palestinian Museum (Birzeit, Palestine), and director of education, outreach and awareness at the Petra National Trust (Amman, Jordan). She serves on several boards and committees including ArteEast (NYC), CultureSource (Detroit), the Citizens Advisory Committee at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and the general assembly of Taawon-Welfare Association (Palestine). Diana graduated from Wellesley College and received a Ph.D. in History and Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University.
Matthew Jaber Stiffler, Research & Content Manager at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, MI. Matthew also helps to lead a national research program through ACCESS, the largest Arab American community non-profit in the country, to secure better data about the Arab American community. Matthew received his Ph.D. in American Culture from the University of Michigan in 2010, where he serves as a lecturer in Arab and Muslim American Studies. He is a former board member of the Arab American Studies Association and serves on the executive board of Michigan Humanities. He writes about food and identity.