Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series:
Lorene Zarou-Zouzounis, Poet and Human Rights Activist
interviewed by David Garyan
DG: Your work deals heavily with the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. Recent escalations in the region have contributed to rising tensions, both in the emotional and physical sense. While rants and diatribes may be a common feature on the news, poetry is a timeless art and requires, often, days, weeks, months, if not years of contemplation before a writer can successfully address any given topic. How do you, hence, deal with the schism on an immediate emotional level, and, yet, at the same time, find the composure to put this plight onto paper?
LZZ: While growing up in downtown Detroit, then the suburb Redford Township, Michigan, and subsequently in Noe Valley, San Francisco, in the early ’70s, my parents did not educate me on our history, the politics around the “Question” of Palestine, the displacement of our people, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the occupation, etc. The occupation of historic Palestine is now seven decades long, and although we’re now dealing with “recent” escalation in the region, such escalations, violence, and turmoil are constant variables under the extremely oppressive and uncompromising regime. It’s possible to do a separate interview on this topic alone, so I won’t ramble on about the conflict/occupation and the brutal and racist policies imposed on Palestinians by the state of Israel. I would urge readers to think critically and learn the “other” story through books, blogs, articles, and websites. There is a sea of misinformation on the web, and trolls do not help the matter, so the best sources are books and reputable online sites. There are many Israeli historians doing good work on the topic—Ilan Pappé and Avi Shlaim, just to name a couple. It is not easy being Palestinian, and not easy to write about Palestine/Israel without feeling tormented, angry, and desolate; however, it is the suffering, creativity, and resilience of my people that has kept me motivated; it has inspired me to write and publish my poetry, and to endure chronic agony, which really is inevitable for all poets, at least in my view. It is poets who speak for the dispossessed, underrepresented, oppressed, and silenced. That is not a task/journey/undertaking I chose really, but I feel like it chose me—the poetry and the activism that is. Ultimately, I have accepted my role, my calling, if you will, as I do believe in God, and the power of the universe. I also believe that one person can make an impact. Collectively an impact is phenomenal, but I do strongly believe in every person doing his or her part, working for the common good; all this can help bring about positive change—not only in one’s self, but universally. I don’t buy into the lazy ideology—that apathy-filled cop out when people say: “I am helpless. My words and actions alone can’t bring about positive change.” Or when they say: “I don’t like or engage in politics.” I also do not believe that everything is in “God’s hands,” so to say. We need to take charge of our own individual fate, as much as each individual can—using any creativity, any power we can muster. I also believe that God often gives us challenges we are strong enough to survive! If God believes we can handle some challenges, he assigns them to us, and it is our duty as humans to overcome them—however grueling and burdensome the challenges may be. Why does this seem like a parable? I am not a student of theology, but I have a keen intuition, and I am quite spiritual. Given that there is constant violence and aggression in the Holy Land, there is always something to write about; poetry, to answer your question, must work to break down stereotypes and dispel myths about this difficult, skewed, and emotionally charged topic. If only mainstream Western media could be as honest and brave as poets, peace could arrive sooner. And still, those media outlets, journalists, and writers who dare to speak out truthfully deserve all the praise they get, because their job carries with it many risks.
The human rights violations associated with the occupation, along with the lack of knowledge about the hidden and silenced Palestinian narrative, not to mention the constant, wide-spread propaganda, creating a sort of informed apathy here in the US—and elsewhere—has taken a huge toll on my physical and emotional health. It is not easy work—Palestinian solidarity, working towards peace, towards justice even, and the writing, of course. Some Palestinians are not as affected, but personally, I live and breathe Palestine and Israel, and I feel the suffering in every part of my physical and mental being. I would like to see a one-state solution—to see all people of the Holy Land live together in a homeland, but this will only occur if the US and the other major superpowers hold Israel accountable for its wrongdoings, but also put pressure on the Palestinian leadership to reach more solid agreements. We need the global community to act as honest brokers—willing to accept the terms from both sides fairly, objectively, realistically, and especially, we need the international community to acknowledge that the indigenous people of the land, the Palestinians, are human beings and deserve respect; they deserve dignity and basic human rights. The US is the most powerful country in the world, and it is also Israel’s biggest ally; ultimately, it has made no consistent or even significant attempts to solve the conflict. Furthermore, other major powers, like the EU and The Arab League, have really not made any substantial attempts either—everyone has an agenda and the sacrificial lamb is the Palestinian. We have evolved as humans, perhaps, but our evolution on the political level is almost non-existent, in my opinion. That is very sad to me. Powerful countries love to give hand-outs and put bandages on problems—offering mainly lip service and unrealized rhetoric, but they do not get to the root of the problem, to solve it holistically and sustainably. I believe this conflict could be solved very easily if politicians had more compassion, vision, courage, and the political will to solve it. Incidentally, there is much written on the topic of a one state solution, as the two-state solution is no longer a reality, and perhaps never was—that topic is for another day.
I am extremely sensitive about the suffering of Palestinians. I deal with my emotions by writing about them and then reading my work in public, when I get the chance. Publishing also helps, along with working as an activist to heighten awareness through my art—I draw stamina from the desire to improve my country’s situation. Ultimately, I empathize with all human suffering. In this respect, I do feel upset and angry when an Israeli is either hurt or killed; at the same time, through my art and poetry, I am trying to convey that the violence against Palestinians is largely ruthless and always disproportionate. In other words, we do not have an Iron Dome (capable of intercepting ninety percent of incoming rockets), sophisticated military equipment, and the backing of the strongest country in the world. There is criticism on the other side as well, but mostly it is the occupation, land encroachment, and ethnic cleansing that bothers us. My aim is to bring attention to this plight, reveal the violent, racist, and oppressive policies that worsen as we speak, without impunity for the perpetrator. B’Tselem is an Israeli human rights organization that has done a lot of work to document the atrocities. Al Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization, is another one. There are many, but to keep it short, I only mention two.
DG: At the moment, you’re working on a science fiction novel, along with God’s Hill and an Angel In Her Midst, a collection of vignettes about your mother’s life in Palestine, and a book about your brother’s mental illness, My name is Ten O’Clock. Without giving too much away about either project, it would be fascinating to hear a little bit about each endeavor. Are you working on them concurrently, or do you focus on each one separately for a while and then move on to the next?
LZZ: Unfortunately, I am not a full-time writer, as I have two jobs which take up enormous time and energy, both during the day and in the evening. My husband is from Greece and we work together, running a family business we founded in 1967. I have raised two children, and for the past five years have been caring for my mother in my home, along with assisting in the care of two siblings for most of my adult life. If I had been writing and publishing full-time all these years, I would have published a larger body of work, but life has its own way of making decisions for you, even if you are a good decision maker yourself. Moreover, I am my own worst critic. Although I began writing poetry at the age of thirteen, and subsequently began publishing my work in the ’70’s and ’80’s, I am kind of a closet writer, as I have hundreds upon hundreds of unpublished poems and prose pieces. My goal going forward is to submit more to literary journals, and publish my poetry anthology, Faces—The Nine Stations of Pain and Joy. I am grateful to Interlitq for publishing four of my poems online, as prior to that publication, I had little online presence. I am fortunate to have been published in fourteen anthologies, and to have released a chapbook of my own from in the late 80’s. Sadly, I do not spend much time on my craft, and that is not by choice; rather it has to do with life constantly taking over. I hope all this will change when I retire. The good thing is that I do get invited to read quite often, and I vowed to myself decades ago, that I would produce new work for readings, or at least, edit old pieces; that has been a good habit, and it has kept me in the creative loop—in a productive way. Not having enough time for my writing makes me melancholy, but I do the best I can, without beating myself up too much about it. Retirement will help me dedicate more time to my craft. I am contemplating, also, returning to college, something I did a few years ago, but this will not be easy in the midst of a pandemic. Several years ago, I took two classes with Tupelo Press, and this has helped me further hone my skills. I consider myself a late bloomer. I also do sketches and have a general interest in art—scribble art, pencil and pen art, and watercolors as well. I do have a children’s poetry collection I would like to publish someday, but that is last on the totem pole. I helped develop and teach children’s poetry workshops for a few years, at a local elementary/middle school.
Regarding God’s Hill and an Angel in her Midst, I have been documenting my mother’s stories for decades, and I am weaving together a collection from her storytelling. The book will begin from her birth in 1932, up to our departure from Palestine in 1964. God’s Hill is the name given to the town I was born in, Ramallah. My mother is a hardworking, loving, selfless, kind, caring and a remarkably strong woman, who has had an unbelievably difficult life; she inspires me daily and is my role model. From her I’ve learned and continue to receive perseverance, unconditional love, hard work, and resilience. She never complains and has endured unbelievable hardship since birth. This is a story I am longing to tell. She touches everyone she meets in a special way, and will turn 90 in March. I began this project as vignettes based on true stories, sprinkled with my imagination, along with facts and events from our lives. I have many original vintage documents and photos to be included. Below is my mother’s birth certificate.
I want this book to weave in also stories of Palestine, to make it truly a piece of historical fiction. During an extended visit many years ago, I conducted a lot of research in Ramallah, and did some research in places where relatives reside. My mother’s Alzheimer’s has in many ways been a blessing in disguise because she is living in the past and her memory from the past is excellent—much better, in fact, than her pre-Alzheimer’s recollections. Her Arabic vocabulary doubled, so I am learning a lot, even though I already speak colloquial Arabic. Each day she blurts out a new word or phrase I have not heard before. It is remarkable to witness the mind with dementia. Here, a photo of me as a one-year-old.
Many years ago, I completed a historical fiction children’s book, which still needs to be published. After 9-11 I feared writing political poetry as an Arab American, so I changed genres for a while. I wanted to write a series of books for young readers, on the subject of the ancient world. I asked a friend to collaborate with me. We wrote Asham and the Smart Ox, a work about the Natufians who lived in ancient Jericho about 10,000 years ago. Jericho is one of the oldest cities in the world. I myself lived there for a short time when my father worked as a waiter. I am hoping to find a publisher for this project soon.
I tend to work on many things at once. I love the writing—all of it, all the genres, but do not care for the administrative, technical, and business side of the enterprise. Luckily, I have a fantastic friend/neighbor, Carmel Weiler, who is a life saver and helps me with the technical aspects of formatting and also the submission process.
With regard to the book I am writing about my little brother Simon, who has tragically been suffering from schizophrenia for three decades, My Name is Ten O’Clock will become a tribute for not only him, but also for all others afflicted with this condition. As is often true with Palestine, people tend to shy away from mental illness as well—it seems fate has chosen me to deal with misunderstood and painful subjects. I already have many poems that will be in this book, but I have not begun writing the actual narrative section yet. I had an older brother who sadly passed away about seven years ago, at the age of 60, and he too suffered most of his adult life with schizophrenia. This horrid and debilitating curse of a malady has no cure. My little brother has an uncanny memory, and supposedly there is a name for the type of memory he has, but that escapes me now. My little brother sings and plays his guitar, mainly to help his auditory hallucinations, and he used to sing to me this tune he’d made up called, “My Name is Ten O’Clock!” I’ve asked to interview him, but he refuses.
DG: You were born in Palestine, but left at a young age for the US with your family. Although each immigrant story is unique, there are nevertheless similarities in the Italian, Irish, Chinese, and German experiences, just as examples. In this respect, what are the challenges and rewards of living as an Arab-American, and how was your own story different and perhaps even similar to what most people either went or go through?
LZZ: In the early stages of our life as immigrants (we arrived in 1964), our challenges were mainly survival—assimilation, finding work, learning the language, getting food on the table, navigating a completely different culture, making friends, and that sort of thing. We had relatives in Detroit, New York, and Florida, so we had support, especially in Detroit, where we first settled. My parents did not drive, so I learned to be very independent and gained the so-called “street smarts” right away; in fact ,I was a courageous and adventurous tomboy. I always joke that I was held back in kindergarten because of my poor English. I was five when I arrived in the US, and personally, I have thrived here, despite the many obstacles I have faced—there is enough material to write a separate memoir. It has not been easy living as an immigrant, and especially a Palestinian Arab woman with strong opinions, but also an outgoing, bubbly personality—to be a woman who is seldom shy about confronting issues or topics head on, whether in poetry, activism, or conversation. However, I have had it easier than immigrants who arrived later, at an older age, not having ample time to assimilate, learn English quickly and proficiently. I did not keep my accent, so I appeared and continue to appear American to many, especially since I was not as dark-skinned as some of my family members, relatives, and friends. As a result, I have encountered less racism than others, but nevertheless, racism, discrimination, and the occasional hate mail did not escape my life entirely. I try my best to fit in with my community and circle of friends, but also I have learned that I often feel much happier, more confident and when I can simply be myself! I have been blessed to have an amazing and supportive husband who has not stifled my writing, activism, and art, despite the fact that I have so many other responsibilities at work and at home with the kids, and so on. I am extremely fortunate to have such a great support system, my husband and two remarkably productive and creative children. My kids are extremely proud of me, and always give me accolades to encourage and assure me I am on the right path; this helps me stay strong and insightful.
Early on in our life in America, we were taught to say we are “Syrian,” and then much later we began to say “Palestinian.” I don’t know what that was all about, but perhaps it is because of our Orthodox Religion—we are “Syrian Orthodox.” Palestine is part of the Levant region—meaning Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, so perhaps it was natural to just say Syrian. I am not sure if this had anything to do with the negative image of the Palestinian at the time, and the stereotyping that subsequently escalated, especially when, in the early years, there were revolts taking place against the “settlers” coming in from Europe and elsewhere. But such designations as “Syrian” could also have been born out of the desire to “fit in,” to be “liked,” and the fear of being labeled negatively, something people do quickly and easily—with a wide brush stroke. Below, our family in 1964, when I was five (it excludes my father as he was already in the US).
I married a Greek Orthodox man thirty-eight years ago, so religion is one of the few things that has remained constant throughout my life, but I am always proud to say I am a Palestinian. I think being Christian made it easier for me to be an immigrant, as Muslim Arabs have a much harder time—and sadly still do, in America and elsewhere. To this day, it is a constant struggle having to educate people that it is a big mistake to automatically assume I am a Muslim when I say I am Palestinian or even Arab. At the same time, this allows me further opportunity to talk about Palestine, Islam, Christianity, Judaism—all of it! People don’t realize they open Pandora’s box when sparking a conversation with me. I have learned when to talk and when to refrain from “opening” up about certain subjects. I enjoy discussing topics related to the Arab World, along with history and religion—taking people’s mind off the labels, racism, and stereotypes. Below, the Zarou family passport from 1964.
Many people do not know that Palestine exists, or what historic Palestine even was, and often people say “Pakistan” when I say Palestine. I am grateful there has been some shifting of the tide in recent years. Social media, citizen reporters, independent journalists, photographers, and filmmakers have helped bring a new perspective to the conflict. Much of our history has been erased from the map—literally. Most say “Israel” when the subject is discussed, but what they should really say is “Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” It’s been frustrating trying to educate people that there are Christians, millions of them in fact, in the Arab World. I try not to be presumptuous—it is a simple matter of trying to clarify what most people don’t know. Many people are not educated enough to know about other cultures, religions, traditions, and that is not their fault—if they were not taught this in school or at home. There has been, for decades, I think, a rigorous campaign to stifle activities, students, and professor that want to heighten awareness about Palestinians and their untold, hidden story. Again, that could be another interview.
When I see a wrong, I want to make it right; in this respect, being Arab American and trying to educate people about Palestine has been difficult, and it still is, as most people don’t want to talk about the subject, for fear of being labeled anti-Semitic. Propaganda is strong, and when it is repeated over and over again, falsity morphs into a truth. Once that “false” truth is imbedded into one’s psyche, especially a narrow-minded one, it is often impossible to “extract” it out. That is why I strongly believe in critical thinking as a skill that should be taught in every grade, just like math and reading, starting from the first grade with very simple exercises. Fearmongering and brainwashing have worked very well for those interested in creating false narratives discourses which they later spew out to the gullible, ignorant, and likewise ill-informed. People forget that Arabs are a Semitic race too and speak a Semitic language. Judaism is not to be equated with the state of Israel, as I have nothing against any religion or any culture. I was born in the land where three monotheistic religions flourished—not one—and so we are all children of Abraham, as he is the father of these three monotheistic religions. I have Jewish friends and relatives, so being pro-Palestinian is not being anti-American, anti-Israel, or anti-Semitic. I consider myself a pacifist warrior for the common good.
When the US is criticized in relation to Israel’s policies towards Palestine, it is easy for many to stereotype Arab Americans, particularly Palestinians, as being too political, too radical, and too anti-American. I believe, however, that true patriotism is about the ability to offer constructive criticism—to fight for the change one believes in. I try to engage people—to inspire them to be critical thinkers; this is not anti-American—it’s intelligence, patriotism, and ultimately love. Ignorance has been tough to deal and it’s tough to fight against racism, misinformation, and propaganda because it’s everywhere, consciously and unconsciously hypnotizing minds.
DG: In the late 80’s you did numerous readings in San Francisco with Etel Adnan, the renowned Arab-American poet. She has quite an interesting history and background, to say the least. How did you come to meet her and what was it like to collaborate with her?
LZZ: It is quite remarkable that you ask this question, as I always think about Etel, and how our relationship shaped who I am as a poet and artist. I am so pleased I am able to share this history. Unfortunately, as you know, she recently passed away at a very old age, while I was writing this interview. I missed her last art exhibit (in 2019 at the SF Museum of Modern Art) but I was fortunate enough to attend an art exhibit of hers in the 90’s at Sonoma State University. Her art has truly evolved, as it was much simpler in her earlier days, and she now leaves behind a remarkable collection of stunning art and writings. May her memory be eternal, and it most certainly will, as she has gained enough recognition to be considered one of the most influential artists of our time. She is very well known for her poetry, but also fiction as well. I first met Etel (who is part Lebanese) in the late ’80s when I was invited to read alongside her at Small Press Traffic on Guerrero Street, in San Francisco. There is actually an advertisement for the reading that was published in The San Francisco Examiner on August 14th, 1988.
Small Press Traffic no longer exists as a brick and mortar location, but still operates as an institution, and, in fact, it gave her an award. Recently I was looking at their Instagram page and they sent me an amazing piece of history, which I’d like to share here; it is a photo of the reading with our names. On the evening of the reading, I picked up Etel from her home in Sausalito, and drove her home afterwards. I visited her and Simone Fattal (her lifetime partner) at their home. After this, our friendship blossomed and she began to mentor me for some time. I did a few other readings with her over the years, and one was at Stanford—at the invitation of a lifelong friend who still teaches there, Professor Khalil Barhoum. In fact, I ran into Etel in SF at an art exhibit in the late ’80s, and she introduced me to Khalil and Ann, and we have been great friends since. Etel had a big impact on my life as a poet, especially when she made me believe that it is all right to go at your own pace and take your time. I also heard her and Naomi Shihab Nye read SFSU, my university. On numerous occasions, she advised me not to feel bad about not working hard enough, or producing enough; she told me to focus on raising my children and that my time would eventually come. I think of this advice all the time. Etel and I corresponded for a long time—some years more frequently than others, but we always exchanged Christmas cards. Receiving cards from her was so euphoric for me. I recently found out about the Etel Adnan Poetry Series Prize, and will hopefully submit to that someday. Below are some of my correspondences with Etel.
(Monday, August 13th, 1989)
I like your “Embroidered Memory” very much. It’s good you read it at A.A.U.G. There is Poetry Week coming. You should attend the readings. I am in charge of “International Poetry” afternoon: October 21, from 3 to 5 p.m. at Fort Mason, Pier 2 in the new Theatre. It’s about poets born outside the U.S. I will read with them. It will be good that you follow as many events as possible in that week. Herman has the schedules. Do you know the magazine “POETRY FLASH”? It is distributed free. You can get it at bookstore at the beginning of each month at City Lights, among other places. But don’t get dizzy with it, it has too much information, sometimes, and it is anguishing. I am feeling better, although we lost a very dear friend in the Beirut fighting. A rocket hit her room and she died. We’re extremely upset about it. She was one of Simone’s closest friends. Hope you find moments of calm in this maelstrom … How is the little girl? Give her a hug from me.
Hello to David.
Love to you all,
These last days have been hard, but we will not give up. The best way is to do what we can do best; for you, to continue to write. Was happy to see the picture of your daughters. They are beautiful. Athena has grown and the little one is charming. All my wishes for a brand new year. Be well. Wishes for the whole family.
Palestinians will get peace. They are paying for it in heroic terms. Miriam Kaiya is most welcome to our imperfect Earth. We should see you after the holidays.
MERRY CHRISTMAS for the three of you,
DG: Who are some of the Palestinian poets you enjoy reading and which ones would you, firstly, recommend that have already been translated, and, secondly, are there some writers who are still only read in Arabic but deserve a greater audience?
LZZ: The highly celebrated Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, comes to mind immediately. I truly love Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani, and one of the poems, “Inside Your On Short Story As I Read to You,” which I published in Interlitq’s Californian Poets is about him. I know the question is about Palestinian poets, but I am in awe of the Lebanese writer Gibran Khalil Gibran. It is my pleasure to say that I have poem about him in my own anthology Inquire Within, published in the late 80’s. In fact, I found a poem that he wrote which is almost identical to mine. It was a spiritual moment for me when I discovered it one day, reading to my mother—Gibran poems on a calendar. I froze and ran to get my poem, and I was astounded. I believe he is my true muse and guardian angel, as I had never read this poem when I wrote my own. Here are only a few of the dozens and dozens of Palestinian poets I recommend, Fadwa Tuqan, Samih al-Qasim, Nizar Qabbani, Salma Al-Khadra’ Al-Jayyusi, May Sayegh, Annemarie Jacir, just to name a few. There are so many. In recent years, I have read work by my Palestinian-American colleagues, friends, and poets that have included me in their anthologies, like Naomi Shihab-Nye and Nathalie Handal. I also read other Palestinian American poets like Suheir Haddad, Hala Alyan, Deema Shehabi, Nathalie Khankan, Susan Abulhawa, Philip Metres, Lisa Suair Majaj, and so many more. There are more Palestinian poets that I would like to list but I would fill pages.
DG: In your recent contribution to Interlitq’s feature, Californian Poets, we were very fortunate to receive four poems—three of which dealt with the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis in both subtle and direct ways; among these well-written works, however, there was also “Commute Home,” a poem about the beauty of San Francisco and California in general. In this respect, your work is strongly tied to place and belonging, and the challenges of writing about your birth country are immediate and apparent. Despite having lived in the US for most of your life, it’s nevertheless true that most immigrants form different attachments to the people and geography of their new “home.” In other words, they have the privilege of seeing the US from a perspective that native-born people really have no access to. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on this, and if, as a poet, you compose in a different mindset when writing about Palestine, as opposed to your second home?
LZZ: Actually I often feel cursed for having been born in a land with so much strife and suffering, and that my life would have been so much simpler had I been born in the US. Having said that, I would not be who I am had I not been born in Ramallah, Palestine; as I mentioned earlier, it’s the strong connection to my land and its people that fuels my creativity. At the same time, I am very fortunate to have experienced life in Michigan, but most importantly, California, as I love California and truly adore the San Francisco Bay Area—it is really the place which has shaped me the most, as I moved here at the age of twelve or so. This area is endowed with natural beauty, wonderful institutions, museums, a vibrant culinary scene, moderate weather, and like-minded individuals. In the Bay Area, it is like living in an artist’s colony—even more, it is like living in one of those old French “salons.” In my younger years, I had more time to mingle with artists, but as I got older and responsibilities began keeping me increasingly homebound, I began to miss the “salon” life of SF. I still do venture out from time to time, but not as much as I used to. I love being out in nature, hiking, exploring, and going to museums. The Bay Area has so much to offer with its stunning landscapes, and the poem “Commute Home” is one of my favorite pieces, expressing the beauty of California while simply driving home and partaking in the spectacular views we’re blessed with.
It was my great fortune to have been dear friends with the late Jack Hirschman, who often invited me to readings, and who was also one of my publishers in the Revolutionary Poets Brigade anthologies. Jack recently passed, and he too was a great supporter of my work, and a mentor too. He was once a poet laureate of SF. I lost two of my mentors a few months apart. I am feeling old. For year, Jack invited me to read annually at Readers Bookstore at Fort Mason Center on the SF Bay, a collaborative reading with the Friends of the SF Public Library. He also invited me to read at the Beat Museum in North Beach and at all the RPB events.
For a long time, I also read each year at a historic bar in North Beach (and still do), Specs, with the Maintenant Journal out of NY. I read each time I publish in the journal. I really need to venture out, go to museums, literary and music events more often, as that is how I feel more alive and connected to other artists. Covid has made it tough to connect. I have turned down several Zoom readings, as I don’t feel ready enough to read on that platform. Perhaps I will someday. Ultimately, if I had not spent most of my life in America, I would not have met all the wonderful and supportive people that helped me become who I am. Yes, I have two homes, two histories, two cultures, two of almost everything, including two sets of problems, and that’s a double challenge, but as I wrote earlier, I try to not dwell on the problems, but focus on the solution. And I am grateful I can snap out of my negative thoughts, most of the time. Art helps accomplish this.
DG: If you had to recommend one Palestinian dish, what would it be?
LZZ: I have so many that come to mind, but given how I love the smell of sumac on chicken, musakhan is one of my favorites. The chicken is smothered in this tangy, lemony, and burgundy colored spice, along with olive oil and other spices, a ton of onions, also smothered in sumac, then baked atop homemade bread—it is just delicious. It must be topped with toasted pine nuts, of course, to be complete and beautiful—like many other Palestinian dishes. I will never forget the first time I returned to Ramallah, since emigrating here, we ate this delectable dish cooked the best way, in a “taboon.” A taboon is an ancient oven built in biblical times and still used today, and it cooks like no oven can cook. It resembles a fire pizza oven. My grandmother on my father’s side cooked in our taboon, mainly bread. Our family lived with my with paternal grandparents. My mother told me that it is like a full-time job for my grandmother to keep the eternal flame going in the taboon, and to collect so many materials to fuel this fire. The bread is unlike any bread you will taste.
About Lorene Zarou-Zouzounis
Lorene Zarou-Zouzounis is a Palestinian-American, born in Palestine and emigrated to the US when she was 5 years old. She is a poet, writer, and human rights and peace activist. She writes poetry, prose, historical fiction for children and adults, short stories, and science fiction. She self-published a poetry chapbook, Inquire Within, and is published in at least 15 literary anthologies—notably, The Poetry of Arab Women, Food for Our Grandmothers, The Space Between our Footsteps, War After War-SF City Lights Review #5, and A Different Path, Radius of Arab-American Writers. She is most currently published in three Revolutionary Poets Brigade anthologies, and three Maintenant Dada Poetry & Art journals. She is currently writing an historical collection of stories about her mother’s life in Palestine, as well as an anthology of poems entitled Faces, the Nine Stations of Pain & Joy. She was a finalist for two poems entered in the 2011 Indie Writing Contest—(Author Solutions, Inc., the San Francisco Writers Conference, and San Francisco University Partner). The anthology, Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology, edited by Nathalie Handal, includes two of her poems, and was the Winner of the PEN Oakland Literary Prize.