Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1997-1998 index

Distributed April 13, 1998
Contact: Linda Mahdesian

Bridging the Arab-Israeli gap through literature

Arabic literature scholar wins Wriston Fellowship from Brown University

Dean of the College Kenneth Sacks has announced that Kamal Abdel-Malek, assistant professor of comparative literature, has been named the recipient of the 1998-99 Henry Merritt Wriston Fellowship.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Kamal Abdel-Malek, assistant professor of comparative literature at Brown University, is the winner of the 1998-99 Henry Merritt Wriston Fellowship competition. The Wriston Fellowship is awarded to outstanding member(s) of the faculty in support of innovative research. Abdel-Malek's selection was announced by Dean of the College Kenneth Sacks, at the April 7 faculty meeting.

"It felt great. It was a great moment to be recognized by my colleagues at Brown. It's a singular honor," said Abdel-Malek. "It's the sign of a great university to support the work of its junior faculty, and especially its minority faculty."

The award is not only one of the most prestigious given to faculty by the University, but it enables the recipient to take time away, with full salary and a travel budget, to conduct research. Abdel-Malek will use his fellowship to research his new book - his fourth - titled The Rhetoric of Violence and Reconciliation: Arab-Jewish Encounters in Palestinian Literature. His research will take him to Israel, Jordan and Syria in order to conduct research in various libraries, cultural institutions, and face-to-face interviews with writers and literary scholars. The research is concerned with the popular and the cross-cultural Palestinian perceptions of Israeli Jews as reflected in Palestinian creative literature written between 1917 and 1987. "It's a very important topic. The aim is to produce a book that will help in teaching my courses, and I hope it will help the general public as well to understand these issues."

Abdel-Malek emphasized that the fellowship "wouldn't have been possible without my work with David Jacobson [associate professor of Judaic studies]." In addition to teaching his own courses, Abdel-Malek team taught with Jacobson in a new course, "Arabs and Jews: Their Encounters in Contemporary Israeli and Arabic Literature," which attracts many interested students, including Jews, Arabs, Christians and Muslims. The course also attracted press coverage in campus and local newspapers as well as in the Chronicle of Higher Education and on National Public Radio.

In April 1997, the two professors organized a conference at Brown, "Israeli and Palestinian Identities: In History, Literature, and the Arts," presented by the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies. The conference brought together international scholars and Palestinian and Israeli diplomats, writers and musicians in a unique and timely forum dedicated to cross-cultural understanding.

In the summer of 1997, Abdel-Malek and Jacobson initiated a collaboration with Wesleyan University and in cooperation with Trinity College, to launch a full-credit program of study affiliated with The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The Program in Israeli and Palestinian Studies is a semester-long experience that began in January 1998 and concludes June 30.

Abdel-Malek sees the Wriston Fellowship as a means, not an end. "It's a means toward producing more exciting work - exciting both for me and for Brown. It's what we all dream of in the academy, to have that kind of leave and to be able to concentrate on one's own research and nothing else."

Kamal Abdel-Malek

Since joining the Brown faculty in 1992, Abdel-Malek has taken on a heavy teaching load, including seven courses in the 1995-96 academic year. In addition to teaching his regular Arabic language classes, he developed and taught two literature courses: "Arabs and Jews: Their Encounters in Contemporary Israeli and Arabic Literature" (with Jacobson) and "Image of America in the Arabic Press," supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation. The latter course, conducted mainly in Arabic, discusses the way in which America and the American have been portrayed in Arabic writing, political commentary, films, and cartoons from the late 1940s until now.

Abdel-Malek received his Ph.D. in Arabic literature in 1992 from the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University, after receiving a master's degree from the same institution in 1986. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in English literature and history in 1982 from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. In addition to his native language of Arabic, he can speak or read five other languages.

Abdel-Malek's publications include Muhammad in the Modern Egyptian Popular Ballad (Leiden: 1995), Celebrating Muhammad: Images of the Prophet in Popular Muslim Poetry (with Ali Asani and Annemarie Schimmel, South Carolina Press: 1995), and A Study of the Vernacular Poetry of Ahmad Fu'ad Nigm (Leiden: 1990). Under consideration for publication is a textbook titled Talk Like An Egyptian, Walk Like An Egyptian: Learning Egyptian Arabic Through Actions. The textbook is designed to teach students the fundamentals of Colloquial Egyptian Arabic (CEA) through actions. Also under consideration is the collected papers at the 1997 international conference he and Jacobson organized. The volume is titled Israeli and Palestinian Identities in History, Literature and the Arts and is being reviewed by St. Martin's Press.

Another work under consideration is Tradition, Modernity, and Postmodernity in Arabic Literature, co-edited with Professor Wael B. Hallaq. It is a volume of articles by a group of distinguished scholars of Arabic literature. The volume is a festschrift in honor of Professor Issa J. Boullata, who was Abdel-Malek's graduate advisor at McGill.

In addition to his books, Abdel-Malek has written several articles for encyclopedias and international journals, and has presented nearly two dozen scholarly papers at academic conferences throughout the United States and the Middle East.

The Wriston Fellowships

The Wriston Fellowships were initiated by a gift from Thomas J. Watson Jr. (Class of 1937) in 1972 in honor of Henry Merritt Wriston, the University's 11th president, who served from 1937 until his retirement in 1955. Watson called Wriston "the greatest president Brown ever had." It was Wriston's preference that the fund be used for fellowships for faculty members, preferably junior faculty, to encourage innovations in teaching and to provide time for scholarly work or travel. It had long been one of Wriston's opinions, best expressed in his The Nature of a Liberal College, published in 1937, that "Refreshment is a significant word for teaching; everything possible should be done to prevent staleness. Travel is one of the best methods of renewing the teacher; a college can make no more rewarding investment than the encouragement of its staff members to move about with sufficient leisure so that they do not get a tourist's eye view of the world, but gain something of significant insight."