Images From The Middle East
Garry C. Powell to read
By Ginny Masullo
Garry C. Powell, writer and professor of Creative Writing at the University of Central Arkansas, has a photograph of baby camels jammed into the back of a red truck as a kind of banner on his Web site (www.garrycraigpowell.com).
Powell says he chose the photo because “the image of baby camels trussed in the back of a flatbed truck at the Al Ain camel market expresses the reality of modern Arabia, its use and love of technology as well as its traditions.”
The Middle East had an immense influence on Powell. After traveling and teaching extensively for years in the Middle East, Powell’s impulse for his writing was initially to describe what he had seen — “the deserts, the wadis (dry river beds), the bare rocky mountains, the ultra modern cities like Dubai, and the more traditional cities like Al Ain … people walking around in clothing that has hardly changed since Biblical times, talking on cell phones and driving Mercedes.”
Once past that original descriptive urge, says Powell, he began to take a hard look at “the society and the place that Westerners play in it.”
Before going to the Middle East, Powell did not consider himself political. It was in, or since, the United Arab Emirates, where he taught for five years, that Powell says he became a political animal, seeing the West’s complicity in what is called evil there.
Published widely in literary magazines such as the New Orleans Review, Nimrod and McSweeney’s, Powell is currently working on a novel tentatively titled “Gulf.” Powell describes the novel as featuring “Westerners and Arab characters, including Arab women. Its theme is the various gulfs that exist between people in the Gulf — gulfs caused by religion, gender and ethnicity, for example — and how people try to overcome them.”
Stereotypes are something that Powell examines in his writing, especially where Muslim women are concerned. In honor of the women he taught (and who ended up teaching Powell) Powell’s writing strives to explore the stereotypes of Muslim women who Powell says are “anything but weak and submissive.”
He hopes that his writing shows “how some Muslim women rebel quite openly and others make an appearance of playing by the rule, but are actually quite subversive.”
Powell’s clean, sharp prose, like the bright clear photo on his Web site of the camels, grabs the reader to immediate and full attention:
She didn’t feel sexy in front of the wardrobe mirror. The truth was, she looked ridiculous, her face like a papier-mâché mask, her belly not quite flat or firm, her shoulders slightly stooped. She slipped on new black shoes, Spanish ones with pointed toes and stiletto heels. That was better. Then the sheer black negligee. She smeared Lancome lipstick over her mouth, scarlet and thick, like gore. Then it happened. She felt the hot steel slice her windpipe, saw the bayonet wound across her throat, blood bubbling from it. Her abdomen clenched; her eyes were wide and white and rolling. It didn’t usually happen in the daytime. In the first years after Saad’s murder it had only occurred in nightmares, then it got worse, so that even after she had awakened, sobbing, and run to the bathroom, she would see the line of blood across her throat, the stone-dead eyes, and not be able to sleep again unless she got drunk. (Excerpted from Gulf and published in Nimrod, 2008)
Powell began the month of March with a reading at the Clinton Library in Little Rock. He’ll close the month with a reading for Ozark Poets and Writers Collective at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Nightbird Books in Fayetteville.