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Sarah Cypher on The Skin and Its Girl with Zaina Arafat

May 3, 2023

The Center for Fiction welcomed Sarah Cypher for a discussion of her lush and imaginative debut, The Skin and Its Girl, a magic realist family saga centered around a young Palestinian American woman piecing together her great Aunt’s secrets. The story begins in a Pacific Northwest hospital far from the Rummani family’s ancestral home in Palestine, where the heart of a stillborn baby begins to beat and her skin turns a vibrant, permanent cobalt blue. Decades later, Betty returns to her Aunt Nuha’s gravestone faced with a difficult decision: should she stay in the only country she’s ever known or should she follow her heart for the woman she loves, perpetuating her family’s cycle of exile? Cypher was joined by Zaina Arafat, author of Lambda-award winning novel You Exist Too Much and a key figure in the renaissance for queer literature of the Middle Eastern diaspora. The two writers discussed Cypher’s novel of magic, sexual identity, exile, lineage, and family.

Photos by Macy Castañeda Lee

In Conversation

  • Sarah Cypher - Publicity Photo - Eliana Cohen-Orth

    Sarah Cypher

    Sarah Cypher

    Sarah Cypher has an MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, where she was a Rona Jaffe Fellow in fiction, and a BA from Carnegie Mellon University. Her writing has appeared in the New Ohio Review, North American Review, and Crab Orchard Review, among others. She is from a Lebanese Christian family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and lives in Washington, D.C., with her wife.

  • Zaina Final No 3

    Zaina Arafat

    Zaina Arafat

    Zaina Arafat is a queer Palestinian-American writer and the author of the novel You Exist Too Much, an Indie Next Pick for June. Her stories and essays have appeared in publications including Granta, the New York Times, the Believer, Virginia Quarterly Review, VICE, BuzzFeed, the Atlantic and NPR. She holds an MFA from Iowa and was awarded the 2018 Arab Women/Migrants from the Middle East fellowship from Jack Jones Literary Arts. She currently lives in Brooklyn.

    Photo Credit: Carleen Coulter