Randa Jarrar

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Randa Jarrar
Born1978 (age 40–41)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
LanguageEnglish, Arabic
ResidenceUnited States
Alma materSarah Lawrence College (BA)
University of Texas (MA)
University of Michigan (MFA)

Randa Jarrar (born 1978) is an American writer and translator. Her first novel, the coming-of-age story A Map of Home (2008), won her the Hopwood Award, and an Arab-American Book Award. Since then she has published short stories, essays, and the collection, Him, Me, Muhammad Ali (2016). She teaches creative writing in an MFA program at California State University at Fresno.[1][2] In 2018, Jarrar became the center of controversy, when she tweeted her opinion of Barbara Bush on social media following Bush's death.


Randa Jarrar was born in 1978 in Chicago to a Greek-Egyptian mother and a Palestinian father. She grew up in Kuwait and Egypt. After the Gulf War in 1991, she and her family returned to the United States, living in the New York area.[3] Jarrar studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College, receiving an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas at Austin, and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. She has taught College Writing, Creative Writing, and Arab American literature. "Fresno State's a majority minority school," she describes. "Many of my undergraduates are brown: Latinos, Asian Americans, Muslim Americans. They're first generation college students. Or they're children of migrant workers. Or they work full time, and parent."[4]


Jarrar has written nonfiction and fiction, publishing her first short story in the prestigious Ploughshares literary journal in Fall 2004.[5] Her short story, "You Are a 14-Year-Old Arab Chick Who First Moved to Texas" was the winner of the first Million Writers Award for online fiction. She has published[6] two Lives[7] columns in The New York Times Magazine, exploring her past as a single mother.

Her first novel came out to critical acclaim in 2008, and her second book, a collection of stories, won A PEN Oakland Award,[8] A Story Prize Spotlight Award,[9] and an American Book Award.[10]

Jarrar wrote an opinion piece called "Why I Can't Stand White Belly-Dancers", published in Salon in 2014. In this piece, Jarrar said she felt that white women who take part in the art of bellydance are engaging in cultural appropriation and "brown face."[11]

Her commentary was widely criticized; UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh stated, "Maybe telling people that they can’t work in some field because they have the wrong color or ancestry would be ... rats, I don’t know what to call it. If only there were an adjective that could be used to mean 'telling people that they mustn’t do something, because of their race or ethnic origin'".[12]

Atlantic writer Conor Friedersdorf offered: "[W]ith regional variations, something like Raqs Sharqi seems to have been known throughout the Mediterranean and certainly flourished in Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean before the arrival of the Arabs in the 7th century".[13]

Novelist and comics writer G. Willow Wilson wrote in defense of Jarrar, "When you shimmy around a stage in a hip band and call yourself Aliya Selim and receive praise and encouragement, while the real Aliya Selims are shortening their names to Ally and wondering if their accent is too strong to land that job interview, if the boss will look askance at their headscarf, if the kids at school are going to make fun of their children, guess what: you are exercising considerable privilege."[14]

In response to these criticisms, Jarrar wrote a follow-up to her piece, titled "I Still Can't Stand White Bellydancers".[15]

Barbara Bush comments[edit]

On April 17, 2018, following the death of former first lady Barbara Bush, Jarrar described the former first lady as "a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal. Fuck outta here with your nice words",[16] referring to Bush's son, former President George W. Bush.

She said she felt compelled to speak “because I want people to remember history. I want people to know that our country’s actions don’t just disappear; they have real, negative consequences,” she said in an email. “If we want a better future, we have to confront our past.” Jarrar elaborated on her criticism of the former First Lady, citing the Bush family legacy in Iraq and Barbara's comments about Anita Hill (whose claims she doubted) and Katrina victims (she once said evacuees were “underprivileged anyway” and better off in the Astrodome). “The Bush family — including Barbara Bush — supported policies that harmed and destroyed the lives of millions,” she said.[17]

Jarrar was sharply criticized for her insensitive and inflammatory remarks, and demands were made that she be terminated from her job. In response to this, she tweeted that she will "never be fired" for her harsh words, because she has tenure at California State University at Fresno.[18]

The ACLU of Northern California, PEN America, The Thomas Jefferson Center for Freedom of Expression, The Electronic Frontier Foundation, and others sent letters in support of Jarrar.[19]

Suicide prevention hotline[edit]

Jarrar provided a telephone number on her Twitter account as if it was her own contact number, stating "If you really wanna reach me, here's my number ok?"[20] The phone number that she provided was that of an emergency suicide/crisis hotline at Arizona State University.

ASU says they don't believe anyone who needed to get through was unable to.[21]

California State University at Fresno administration response[edit]

California State University at Fresno president Joseph Castro responded to widespread public outrage, saying "Professor Jarrar’s expressed personal views and commentary are obviously contrary to the core values of our University, which include respect and empathy for individuals with divergent points of view".[2] Fresno State confirmed that she was on leave from the university at the time the controversial comments were made.[2]

At a news conference, university provost Lynnette Zelezny confirmed that Jarrar's tenure would not protect her from termination, but did not specify whether termination was appropriate at the time.[22] On April 25, 2018 News Metropolis reported that a Change.org petition to remove Jarrar from her position at Fresno State University had received over 90,000 signatures.[23][24][25]

Incitement to Violence Against Richard Spencer[edit]

Jarrar was filmed commenting on American white supremacist Richard Spencer saying, "Why is Spencer's house still standing? I don't understand. It needs to be f***ing broken into. People need to throw grenades into it". I don't give a f***".[26]

Further Activism[edit]

On July 27, 2018, Jarrar tweeted, "At some point, all of us in the literary community must DEMAND that white editors resign. It’s time to STEP DOWN and hand over the positions of power. We don’t have to wait for them to [f***] up. The fact that they hold these positions is [f***] up enough."[27][28]

This was in response to the publication in The Nation of a poem that made what some commentators perceived as racist attempts at black vernacular, which sparked a backlash, and which the editors later apologized for publishing.[29]

Personal life[edit]

Jarrar has written about her experiences with domestic violence and reproductive coercion.[30] She is openly queer.[31]



  • A Map of Home: A Novel Hardcover: Other Press 2008. ISBN 1590512723.
  • A Map of Home: A Novel Paperback: Penguin 2009. ISBN 0143116266.
  • Him, Me, Muhammad Ali Paperback: Sarabande Books 2016. ISBN 9781941411315
  • The Year Of The Revolutionary New Bread-making Machine by Hassan Daoud, 2007. ISBN 9781846590269, Published by Telegram, Paperback
  • Jo Glanville, ed. (2006). Qissat: short stories by Palestinian women. Telegram. ISBN 9781846590122.


  1. ^ "Randa Jarrar". www.fresnostate.edu. Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  2. ^ a b c Anteola, Bryant-Jon. "Fresno State professor stirs outrage, calls Barbara Bush an 'amazing racist'". The Fresno Bee. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
  3. ^ "Randa Jarrar | Penguin Random House". PenguinRandomhouse.com. Retrieved 2015-08-06.
  4. ^ "Randa Jarrar: Author and Professor". Institute for Middle East Understanding. IMEU. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
  5. ^ "Fall 2004 | Ploughshares". www.pshares.org. Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  6. ^ Jarrar, Randa. "I Was 18 and Pregnant". Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  7. ^ Jarrar, Randa. "The Missing-Piece Son". Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  9. ^ "Spotlight Award Winner". The Story Prize. Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  10. ^ "Professor and author Randa Jarrar wins American Book Award – Fresno State News". www.fresnostatenews.com. Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  11. ^ "Why I can't stand white belly dancers". Retrieved 2015-08-20.
  12. ^ cl_admin (11 March 2014). "ICYMI: Belly Dancing When You're a White Woman".
  13. ^ Friedersdorf, Conor. "In Praise of Polyglot Culture—and Multicultural Belly Dancing".
  14. ^ Buchanan, Matthew. "In Defense (Sort Of) Of Randa Jarrar". gwillowwilson.com. Retrieved 2015-09-30.
  15. ^ "I still can't stand white belly dancers". Retrieved 2015-09-30.
  16. ^ Mays, Mackenzie; Tehee, Joshua (April 19, 2018). "'Where's the lie?' Authors rally behind Fresno State prof who called Barbara Bush racist". Fresno Bee. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  17. ^ Paiella, Gabriella. "Fresno State Professor Speaks Out for First Time Since Barbara Bush Backlash". The Cut. Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  18. ^ Paiella, Gabriella (April 24, 2018). "Fresno State Professor Speaks Out for First Time Since Barbara Bush Backlash". New York Magazine. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  19. ^ "Coalition Letter to Fresno State University, April 19, 2018 - FIRE". FIRE. 2018-04-19. Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  20. ^ Anteola, Bryant-Jon. "'Here's my number': Fresno State professor's post floods Arizona State crisis line with calls". AZ Central. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  21. ^ Rupe, Megan (2018-04-19). "Fresno State professor tweeted out ASU student-crisis hotline as her own phone number". YOURCENTRALVALLEY. Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  22. ^ "Professor's tweet about Barbara Bush was 'beyond free speech,' Fresno State president says". Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  23. ^ Appleton, Aleksandra (April 24, 2018). "This is what Randa Jarrar has to say about her Barbara Bush tweets". Fresno Bee. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  24. ^ Paiella, Gabriella (April 24, 2018). "Fresno State Professor Randa Jarrar Speaks Out First Time". New York. Retrieved 24 April 2018. Also online as Paiella, Gabriella (April 24, 2018). "Fresno State Professor Speaks Out for First Time Since Barbara Bush Backlash". Yahoo!. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  25. ^ "Over 60.000 People Sign Petition To Remove Randa Jarrar From Fresno State University For Disrespecting Barbara Bush". Retrieved 2018-04-25.
  26. ^ "Film Your Marxist Professor". Youtube. Retrieved 2019-01-12.
  27. ^ https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2018/07/30/controversial-professor-wants-white-editors-quit?mc_cid=374665bf85&mc_eid=1da1a6daf3
  28. ^ https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/jul/26/randa-jarrar-fresno-state-professor-demands-white-/
  29. ^ "Stephanie Burt on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  30. ^ Jarrar, Randa. "The Body That Learned What Love Is – Unruly Bodies". Medium. Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  31. ^ "My Interview with the One-and-only Randa Jarrar". Stephanie Abraham. 2016-09-19. Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  32. ^ "storySouth Million Writers Award". www.storysouth.com. Retrieved 2016-03-25.
  33. ^ "Hopwood writing awards presented to 34". Lsa.umich.edu.
  34. ^ 2009 Arab American Book Award Winners, Retrieved April 23, 2018
  35. ^ "Spotlight Award Winner". The Story Prize. Retrieved 2017-01-31.
  36. ^ a b Jefferson Beavers, August 9, 2017, Fresno State News (press release), PROFESSOR AND AUTHOR RANDA JARRAR WINS AMERICAN BOOK AWARD, Retrieved April 23, 2018, "...won the Story Prize Spotlight Award..."
  37. ^ The Story Prize, 2016, THE 2016 SPOTLIGHT AWARD WINNER: Randa Jarrar, Him, Me, Muhammad Ali (Sarabande Books), Retrieved April 23, 2018

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