The National Arab American Journalists Association was launched in 1999 during the first Chicago Writers’ Conference which attracted more than 200 writers, journalists, columnists and poets.
The goal is to NETWORK Arab Americans who are writers and bring them together to help each other professionally and to encourage younger Arab Americans to pursue journalism and writing careers. The writers conference also encouraged Arab Americans to pursue careers in Communications and Public Relations.
Here is the text of the program book intro section:
“Writing in the Next Millennium” Final
The 1999 National Professional Literary Conference on Arab American and Ethnic Writing
The 1999 QALAM Award for Arab American Writing in Poetry, Fiction & Non-Fiction
The 1999 M.T. Mehdi Courage in Writing Awards October 8, 9, 10, 1999 Chicago, Illinois Days Inn O’Hare South 3801 S. Mannheim Road, Schiller Park, Illinois
Sponsored by USG Publishing & Hanania Enterprises Ltd.
• The QALAM Writing Awards (“Quest for Arab-American Literature of Accomplishment and Merit” ) is Organized by Lisa Suhair Majaj and sponsored by MIZNA, Jusoor, Al-Jadid literary publications, and also the AAUG.
The conference is also pleased to have the support and sponsorship of Arab Film Distribution, the United Holy Land Fund, The Arab Star Newspaper, and all of the speakers and participants attending this conference.
Ahlan wa Sahlan … Welcome to Chicago and the First Annual National Professional Literary Conference on Arab American and Ethnic Writing. This 1999 conference features dozens of professional writers who are here to share their experiences with you, to help all of us improve our networking, and to also encourage all of us to seek to improve our writings and become more successful.
This conference also features two exciting events: The first is the 1999 QALAM Award in Writing contest. The contest name, QALAM, is suggested by Lisa Suhair Majaj, who worked hard to organize this first contest and who is responsible for making it a success. It stands for Quest for Arab-American Literature of Accomplishment and Merit (themed by Mohja Kahf).
It goes without saying that without Lisa’s help, this First Annual event which is intended to showcase the best entries of writing from our community might not have taken place. The contest is sponsored by three great Arab American literary magazines, MIZNA, Jusoor and Al-Jadid. But the actual cash prizes are courtesy of Jusoor and the AAUG. Jusoor and its publisher Munir Akash deserve special praise for sponsoring the cash prizes that will be awarded in Poetry and Fiction.
Also, the Association of Arab American University Graduates is sponsoring the prizes for the winners in the Non-Fiction writing category. Both deserve special recognition and gratitude for their support of this contest. Gratitude must also go to Aziz Shihab, publisher of The Arab Star Newspaper, for his generous support, and also to John Sinno, owner of Arab Film Distribution, also for his financial support and sponsorship.
And, finally, we also wish to introduce the First Annual 1999 M. T. Mehdi Courage in Writing Awards which are sponsored by USG Publishing to recognize the courage Arab American writers must sometimes show in the face of hostility in this country when writing about our experiences, our views, our justices and our visions. The 1999 M.T. Medhi Courage in Writing Award is named in honor of Dr. Mohammad Taki Mehdi (1928 – 1998) who dedicated his life to fighting publicly for the rights of Arab Americans. Dr. Mehdi was an inspiration to many Arab Americans, especially in the late 60s and the 1970s when there were so few of us in this country and we were the targets of officially sanctioned harassment, and FBI investigations.
Speaking out in support of Palestinian rights in those years was difficult and immediately brought you under the “big brother” eye of federal authorities who wrote us off as “terrorists” and “vicious killers.” In the face of that harassment and pressure, M. T. Mehdi began the publication of ACTION newspaper around 1970 and published it for many years through the early 1990s. Every Monday, Arab Americans around the country would wait for their copy of ACTION Newspaper, the only publication that consistently fought for the rights not only of Arab Americans but without double standards for everyone victimized by bigotry, hatred and stereotypes. As you have read, there are many “First Annuals” involved here. It is a promise and vision on my part and on the part of many Arab American writers who came together as the result of a need to further our writing ambitions and to provide networking support to others in our chosen career paths.
This weekend, we can expect to learn from each other and share. We can take pride in each other and ourselves for the writing we have done and the writing we will do. We can stand together and encourage and support not only those seasoned writers, but also those Arab Americans who aspire to become professional writers. Finally, we also wish to welcome the delegation of Arab journalists from the US Information Agency’s International Visitors Program. These journalists are among you and represent media outlets in Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Syria.
Thank you for joining us this weekend and supporting this Conference. I apologize for any wrinkles that might occur and urge you all to share in what I know promises to be a very productive and educational event.
Ray Hanania USG Publishing, President