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The Center for Fiction Presents: Zein El-Amine and Hala Alyan on Love and War

November 8, 2022

The Center for Fiction was thrilled to welcome writers Zein El-Amine and Hala Alyan to discuss their beautifully insightful stories of complex human experience under the shadow of war. In Zein El-Amine’s Is This How You Eat a Watermelon?, he invites readers into a world where love, war, and trauma collide with the desire to consume life—or be consumed by it. In seven short stories spanning war-torn Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, a hedonistic man eats himself to an early death with the desecration of the city of Beirut forming the backdrop, a young man, a young woman, and a mistreated monkey unite in a bid to survive, and fresh snow compels a sacrilegious undertaking from a father much to the shock of his children. The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan (Salt Houses) is a personal look at the legacy of war in the Middle East and an indelible rendering of how we hold on to the people and places we call home; In Beirut, amidst the changing landscape of refugees, religious tension, and political protest, The Nasr Family wrestles with their own secrets—lost loves, bitter jealousies, abandoned passions, deep-set shame. Lambda Literary Award winner Zeyn Joukhadar moderated this conversation on survival, love, sorrow, betrayal, and joy.

Presented in partnership with Radix Media and Mizna.

In Conversation

  • Zein_credits to Jen Lemen - Eliana Cohen-Orth

    Zein El-Amine

    Zein El-Amine

    Zein El-Amine is a Lebanese-born poet and writer. He has an MFA in Poetry from the University of Maryland. His poems have appeared in Wild River Review, Folio, Beltway Quarterly, Foreign Policy in Focus, CityLit, Graylit, Split This Rock, Penumbra, D.C. Poets Against the War: An Anthology, and Ghostfishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology. His latest poetry manuscript A Travel Guide for the Exiled was recently shortlisted for The Bergman Prize, judged by Louise Glück. His short stories have appeared in the Uno Mas, Jadaliyya, Middle East Report, Wild River Review, About Place Journal, and in Bound Off. He resides and teaches in Washington DC.

    Photo Credit: Jen Lemen

  • hala_elenamudd__A9A7247_cool - Eliana Cohen-Orth

    Hala Alyan

    Hala Alyan

    Hala Alyan is the author of the novel  Salt Houses, winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the Arab American Book Award and a finalist for the Chautauqua Prize. Her latest novel The Arsonists’ City was published in March 2021 and was a finalist for the 2022 Aspen Words Literary Prize. She is also the author of four award-winning collections of poetry, most recently  The Twenty-Ninth Year. Her work has been published by the New Yorker, the Academy of American Poets,  LitHub, the New York Times Book Review, and  Guernica. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter, where she works as a clinical psychologist.

    Photo Credit: Elena Mudd

  • Joukhadar_headshot_2022

    Zeyn Joukhadar

    Zeyn Joukhadar

    Zeyn Joukhadar is the author of the novels The Thirty Names of Night, which won the Lambda Literary Award and the Stonewall Book Award, and The Map of Salt and Stars, which won the Middle East Book Award and was a Goodreads Choice Awards and Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize finalist. His work has appeared in Salon, the Paris Review, [PANK], and elsewhere, has been included in anthologies such as Kink, This Arab Is Queer, and others, and has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Joukhadar guest edited Mizna’s 2020 Queer + Trans Voices issue, serves on the board of the Radius of Arab American Writers (RAWI), and mentors emerging writers of color with the Periplus Collective.