Randa Jarrar, professor at California State University Fresno, was born in Chicago in 1978. She grew up in Kuwait and Egypt, and moved back to the U.S. at thirteen. She is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, essayist, and translator of several Arabic short stories and a novel whose honors include the Million Writers Award, the Avery Hopwood and Jule Hopwood Award and the Geoffrey James Gosling Prize. Her fiction has appeared in Ploughshares as well as in numerous journals and anthologies.
Her translations from the Arabic have appeared in Words Without Borders: The World Through the Eyes of Writers; recently, she translated Hassan Daoud’s novel, The Year of the Revolutionary New Bread-Making Machine. She currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A Map of Home is her first novel.
A Fresno State English professor didn’t mince words in a series of tweets she posted an hour after the passing of the former first lady Barbara Bush.
Randa Jarrar said Bush was smart and generous but also called her an “amazing racist” who raised a “war criminal.” She did not offer examples to back up these assertions.
“F— outta here with your nice words,” Jarrar added.
Jarrar, whose Twitter page is now private, sparked controversy with her provocative message, and in the comments she received both praise and scorn. Many tagged Fresno State President Joseph Castro in their tweets.
Randa Jarrar Quick Facts
- 1978: I am born to an Egyptian Mama and a Palestinian Baba in Chicago. We move to Kuwait two months later.
- 1982: I begin school early and my journey of nerddom and doing-things-too-soon begins.
- 1990: Iraq invades Kuwait and I move to Alexandria, Egypt.
- 1991: My dad gets a job in NYC and I move to White Plains, NY
- 1992: I move to Old Greenwich, CT, which is so white it scars me for life.
- 1994: I enroll at Sarah Lawrence College at the age of 16 – see under 1982.
- 1996: I give birth to my son at age 18 because- see under 1982. I get married and I get divorced.
- 1998: My son and I move to Austin, TX to escape my family and ex.
- 2000: I receive an MA in Middle Eastern Studies.
- 2000: I begin a novel.
- 2001: We move to a trailer in Kyle, TX (pop. 5,000 at the time) & I begin novel again. 9/11 happens. I decide no one will read a novel about an Arab-American Muslim girl. I decide yes they fucking will. I keep writing.
- 2003: I finish draft of novel.
- 2004: I begin revising novel. I continue to raise my kiddo solo.
- 2006: I sell novel.
- 2006: I move to Ann Arbor to attend University of Michigan’s MFA program. My son begins playing bass.
- 2007: Novel wins Hopwood Award
- 2008: I receive my MFA in fiction. Novel is released to huge acclaim and gets picked up in 6 countries.
- 2009: I begin a second book. My son begins playing guitar. He is dizzyingly good.
- 2010: I move to CA to become a professor.
- 2011: I begin to publish more essays and creative nonfiction. I go to Istanbul for 5 weeks and write on a residency.
- 2012: I begin a collection of stories. I go to Italy and stay in a castle on a fellowship. My son hates that I do this.
- 2013: I try to visit Palestine and am denied entry.
- 2014: I divorce my second husband who I had lied to my mama and told her he had converted to Islam but he was just White and not Muslim oops.
- 2015: I sell my collection of stories to a publisher. I go to Marfa TX and stay at the Lannan foundation and begin a memoir. My son no longer hates me. He’s a musician and living in San Francisco and working as a gondolier on Lake Merritt.
- 2016: My collection is published to critical acclaim and I win some awards. My son moves home and now I’m the one who hates him. I drive cross country to New York and back for memoir research and also because I can’t deal with my kid’s goat smell.
- 2017: I work hard on my memoir.
- 2018: I finish and sell my memoir. I also become the target of racist white nationalists who send me 800 death threats and call me a camel cunt, which I wish I could call my memoir. I move to Los Angeles. I start doing standup.
- 2019: I get to do standup with Sammy Obeid, one of my heroes, and keep working on my scripts.
Randa Jarrar’s work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Buzzfeed, The Utne Reader, Salon, The Offing, Guernica, The Rumpus, The Oxford American, Ploughshares, The Sun, Medium, and others. Her first book, the Arab-American coming of age novel, A Map of Home, is now on many college syllabi. It was published in seven languages & won a Hopwood Award and an Arab-American Book Award.
Her most recent book, Him, Me, Muhammad Ali, won an American Book Award, a PEN Oakland Award, and a Story Prize Spotlight Award, and was named a Key Collection for Fall 2016 by Library Journal and one of Electric Literature‘s 25 best collections of the year.
With the publication of Him, Me, Muhammad Ali, Jarrar hopes to expand the literary representations of Arabs.
“I think of myself first and foremost as a fiction writer,” she says, before adding “there’s a lot of work that I put into creating my characters [to make the fiction] seem real”.
An example of this approach can be seen in Testimony of Malik, Prisoner #287690. The story, about an interrogation by a Turkish military commander of a Palestinian bird, a kestrel, which trace the violent politics of occupation in Gaza and beyond. The collection’s title story Him, Me, Muhammad Ali is a poignant elegy about a daughter’s troubled relationship with her father as she searches for a meaningful place to scatter his ashes but instead ends up mourning her mother.
Jarrar uses the legendary 1974 boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire – the so-called “Rumble in the Jungle” – as the background against which the daughter’s parents met, before the action shifts to Alexandria, Cairo, Sydney and New York, tackling issues including playground racism and Islamic sermons with searing imagery. “We are just everywhere, on every continent,” Jarrar says, referring to the long history of Arab migration to the west. “I’m thinking of characters and how they move. I draw and think of sentences as sites and places.”
Jarrar is a columnist for Bitch Magazine, has worked with PEN American to judge fiction prizes and to put on events, and was the PEN Ten Interviews editor in 2016-17. She is the Executive Director of RAWI, a literary nonprofit that serves Arab-American writers.
Jarrar has received fellowships from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, Hedgebrook, and others.
In 2010, she was named one of the most gifted writers of Arab origin under the age of 40. She is the translator of several Arabic short stories and a novel, and has taught for MFA programs at CSU-Fresno and Sierra Nevada College, and at Tin House’s Summer Workshop. She holds an MFA from the University of Michigan, where she was a Zell Fellow.
Randa Jarrar Biography and Profile (Randa Jarrar)