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Lark Launches Middle Eastern American Writers Lab

Lark News
Two rows of four photos each, featuring the headshots of the eight Middle East American Writers Lab playwrights

In 2018, playwrights Mona Mansour and Kareem Fahmy approached Lark Director of Artistic Programs Lloyd Suh, with the idea of starting a group for writers of Middle Eastern descent. Now, approximately a year later, The Lark is proud to be calling the Middle Eastern American Writers Lab an official program, in our portfolio of workshops designed to engage a diverse group of writers at all points in their processes and careers.

Following their initial conversation, Mona and Kareem began to gather at The Lark with some fellow artistic collaborators, for informal workshop sessions. The impetus to create the group rose out of a clear, fieldwide need for a safe space in which artists could gather to share work, support one another, and to discuss the nuances of Middle Eastern storytelling.

"I have worked as an actor, playwright and intercultural facilitator through many years of misrepresentation and fear of Arabs and Muslims in the U.S., and perceived, contrived, and real conflicts between the cultures that shaped me," said playwright Leila Buck, one of the inaugural members of the Lab. "I have also experienced firsthand while living and working in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, and other countries, how the stories we in the U.S. choose to tell, believe, and pass on, can impact our country’s actions and with them, lives here and all over the world."

Inspired by other culturally specific arts groups such as The New Black Fest, Ma-Yi Writers Lab, and Noor Theater, the group aimed to be a place for building community around new and vital stories. What soon emerged was a New York City-based home for Middle Eastern American writers, who enriched one another's processes by sharing their work and diversity of perspectives.

"Being a Middle Eastern writer in NYC means that I often feel lost in cultural translation when I share my work," said Stav Palti-Negev, playwright and Lab member. "With the group, I don't need to bridge a gap, they know what I am talking about. We all come from different places, different backgrounds, but we share the same sensibilities, we care about similar things. We all hurt for the Middle East and long for it at the same time."

One of the main goals of The Middle Eastern American Writers Lab is to be a space for storytellers whose work aims to complicate the narrative of the Middle East and Middle East American experience.

“If you sit in a room with three actors who are Middle Eastern you know in about two minutes what’s going on out there. Because they will tell you," said Mona. "Their auditions are for 'Ahmed the terrorist' or, the newest thing is that 'Ahmed' might be a terrorist, or the terrorist’s friend. That's the nuance. It's real! That is what’s out there…and to see it all through that filter is wrong, to me.”

The ultimate goal of the group is to provide a platform for writers of Middle Eastern descent, with the aim of gaining more recognition on a national level, and becoming part of a larger movement towards increased Middle Eastern inclusion in the arts. As a launch towards this effort, The Lark will hold a public event featuring the work-in-progress of the Middle Eastern American Writers Lab in early October 2019. (Make sure to sign up for The Lark's mailing list to be notified as soon as details and free tickets are released!)

In the pilot round of the Lab, participation will be curated at the discretion of the group. Current Lab members are Melis Aker, Leila Buck, Gamze Ceylan, Kareem Fahmy, Mona Mansour, Stav Palti-Negev, Hadi Tabbal, and Sanaz Toossi. The Lark is both thrilled and honored to have these artists in residence this season, and eager to share their work soon with our larger community!

"We do not have to feel like we must ask permission to enter, access, and be present in a space," said Aker. "That alone feels like an act of inclusion in this politicized landscape."