Ghassan Abou-Zeineddine

Ghassan Abou-Zeineddine is a 2020-21 Norman and Jane Katz Faculty Fellow at the Insitute for the Humanities. He teaches Arab American literature and fiction writing to UM-Dearborn students. When not teaching, he works with Arab American writers, both novice and accomplished, and is co-editing a book of creative nonfiction essays to elevate their voices. He is currently working on a new podcast called Seen Jeem that highlights prominent local and national Arab American authors. 

His fiction has appeared and/or is forthcoming in The Georgia Review, Witness, Pleiades, Fiction International, The Common, Epiphany, and the Iron Horse Literary Review, among other places. He lives with his wife and daughter in Dearborn.

Ghassan was interviewed by Nathan Liebetreu, a marketing and media intern at the Institute for the Humanities.



N.L.: Greetings Ghassan, It is great to make your acquaintance. To start us off, what are you reading this week? Or what have you been reading recently? 

G.A.: Nice to meet you, too, Nathan. 

I'm currently reading: Diana Abu-Jaber's memoir The Language of Baklava; Ron Rash's selected stories Something Rich and Strange; and Silvana Paternostro's oral history biography Solitude & Company: The Life of Gabriel García Márquez told with help from his friends, family, fans, arguers, fellow pranksters, drunks, and a few respectable souls. 

N.L.: Those are some great reads. From the books you mentioned, is there a common theme as to why you picked these books in particular? Are they somehow related to your project? 

G.A.: I’m reading The Language of Baklava because I’m considering teaching it in my seminar on Arab American women writers. Abu-Jaber’s memoir relates to my creative project in that it speaks to the Arab American experience.

Ron Rash’s selected stories are mostly set in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, and he does a masterful job bringing the region and its people to life. Since I’m writing a collection of linked short stories about the Arab American community in Dearborn, I’ve found it helpful to study the ways Rash evokes place and develops the complexity of the Appalachian community from one story to the next. 

Gabriel García Márquez is a literary hero of mine. I’ve read all his fiction and nonfiction, as well as Gerald Martin’s biography of him. Paternostro’s book provides an intimate glimpse into the mind and character of García Márquez, detailing how he ultimately became a writer. It’s a lot of fun to read.

N.L.: While researching the above books you mentioned, I was taken by how The Language of Baklava was said to weave together delicious food memories that shed light on the American and Jordanian cultures of the author's childhood and how it invites the reader "to sit down at the table with Diana’s family, sharing unforgettable meals that turn out to be as much about grace, difference, faith, and love as they are about food" (click for reference).  I can see how relevant this will be for your seminar as well as Ron Rash’s selected stories, each of which evokes "the heart and soul of [Appalachia] and its people, men and women inexorably tethered to the geography that defines and shapes them" (click for reference). That actually brings me to my next question: From our brief conversations, I gather novels play a big part in inspiring you and your work. Would you say that is correct? As you also mentioned, Gabriel García Márquez is your literary hero. Can you tell me why that is and what books of his you would recommend to an undergraduate student? 

G.A.: Yes, novels do inspire my work. I guess I’d say fiction in general. I can’t survive a day without reading fiction in some form, whether that be a novel, short story, graphic book, etc. Regarding García Márquez, there’s much to admire about his writing, particularly his world-building. Macondo, the fictional village in Colombia where One Hundred Years of Solitude is set, is breathtakingly vivid. Also, García Márquez’s writing pulses with life and energy. When I read his work, I experience his language.

I’d recommend that newcomers to García Márquez’s work start with his shorter works before diving into One Hundred Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera. Among his novellas, I’d recommend Chronicle of a Death Foretold. I teach this book in my Advanced Creative Writing class.

N.L.: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions. Your responses are greatly appreciated. As my departing and last question to end this interview, I wanted to ask a question we end our fellow interviews with: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would be the one book you would want to have with you and why?

G.A.: Oh, this is a really difficult question. There are so many beloved books to choose from. But if I were stranded on a deserted island, I’d want a long novel to immerse myself in for an extended period of time. A novel that would make me laugh (to make me feel better because I’m on a deserted island) and also move me by its dramatization of the human condition. With all this in mind, I’d choose Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote