Anthony talks to Aaron Ross at Mother Jones.
Mother Jones: What was it like growing up Lebanese in Oklahoma City?
Anthony Shadid: I had a great childhood. I think writers are always better off when they have more twisted childhoods, but I didn’t. There’s always a sense of community, of belonging to the Lebanese community, in Oklahoma. It’s remarkable, when I talk to other Arab-Americans, how closed and tight-knit the community was, everything from the church that everyone shared—they all came from the same town in Lebanon—to the food that was served on every holiday and almost every day. There was a sense of coming from someplace else and having to make it in the place they ended up, and there was a lot of pride in that. The one thing that shaped my life was when I was 15 or 16: I knew I wanted to be a journalist. And not just a journalist, but a journalist in the Middle East, and to go back to the Arab world and try to understand what it meant to be Lebanese.
MJ: What resonated with you the most as you researched your family’s history for the book?
AS: I didn’t know a lot about my great-grandfather who built the house, and I’d done interviews 20 years ago, even before I went to college. I started doing some interviews with elderly people in the family because I knew they would pass away and we would lose the power of their story. But I saw a certain resonance with my grandfather’s life and the decisions that he had to make in terms of his career and his family, in terms of sending his kids away. The more I learned about him, the more I understood him.
MJ: You write that some people in Marjayoun weren’t too happy about a past story you’d penned about the town. How do you think your book will be received?
AS: [Laughs.] I have no idea. I’m actually building a fence around the house right now because I’m worried the reception might not be all that great. I think people will understand what the town represents and what the town means, and be very proud of the book. I’ve tried to offer a memorial to what Marjayoun is and what it was and hopefully what it can still be. But, it’s a town, and a town is filled with gossip and rivalries and jealousies. I don’t think the reception is going to be universally the one I would’ve hoped for.