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Find the Future, Miscellaneous Events: 100 Years of the Arab American Novel: Ameen Rihani’s The Book of Khalid and Arab Life in Lower Manhattan

October 25, 2011

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In partnership with Project Khalid and the CUNY Graduate Center: Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center, The New York Public Library is proud to organize an evening event -- with scholars, the Lebanese Ambassador to the United States, and acclaimed journalist Rami Khouri -- to celebrate the centennial of the first Arab American novel. In 1911, Dodd, Mead, and Co. in New York City published Ameen Rihani’s The Book of Khalid, a story of two boys from Lebanon who immigrate to the Little Syria neighborhood in Lower Manhattan and peddle on the streets. After exposure to the New York artistic and cultural environment of the period, the two return to Lebanon where, inspired by their New York experiences, they transform into political and social revolutionaries and become in conflict with the ruling Ottoman Empire. The work is considered the foundation of Arab American literature and is seen as a crucial influence on Kahlil Gibran’s famous work The Prophet (1923). Its author, Ameen Rihani (1876-1940), acted as the chief Arab American public intellectual in New York in the early 20th century and dedicated his life to teaching Americans about Arab history and culture.

Dozens of events have taken place around the world to celebrate the centennial year of the novel, and nearly all of the major Arab media sources have reported on these activities, especially given the work’s uncanny connection to the recent turmoil in the region. Returning to Rihani’s home here in New York, this event matches the full-day symposium organized by the United States Library of Congress on March 29. The New York Public Library is an especially appropriate venue as Rihani, who had no formal education, developed his literary knowledge from its holdings. With an introduction by Lebanese Ambassador to the United States Antoine Chedid, our panelists for the evening will be Todd Fine, director of Project Khalid, and Akram Khater, a Professor of History at North Carolina State University.  Mr. Fine will talk about Ameen Rihani and The Book of Khalid, and Dr. Khater will speak about Little Syria in Lower Manhattan at the turn of the twentieth century. Journalist Rami Khouri will direct discussion and questions.  

Todd Fine, the Director of Project Khalid, the centennial campaign for The Book of Khalid, is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Harvard University and holds a Master’s Degree in International Relations from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. He is the editor of a new critical edition of The Book of Khalid under advance contract with Syracuse University Press. At Harvard, Mr. Fine worked for Samuel P. Huntington as a research assistant for two years on his book on American identity and immigration, entitled Who Are We? (Simon and Schuster, 2004). He also organized and developed the Global Zero campaign on nuclear weapons, which launched in Paris, France in December 2008.

A native of Lebanon, Dr. Akram Khater holds M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in History from the University of California, Santa Cruz and the University of California, Berkeley, respectively. His books include Inventing Home: Emigration, Gender and the Making of a Lebanese Middle Class, 1861-1921, A History of the Middle East: A Sourcebook for the History of the Middle East and North Africa, and Embracing the Divine: Gender, Passion and Politics in the Christian Middle East, 1720-1798. Currently, he is producing a PBS documentary on the history of the Lebanese community in North Carolina. He sits on the editorial boards of several journals, including the International Journal of Middle East Studies. 

Rami Khouri is the Director of the Issam Fares Institute of Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. He is an internationally syndicated political columnist and author and serves as editor-at-large of the Beirut Daily Star newspaper.