“The best two years of my life” seemed a bit of an over-exaggerated description, especially to the professor who was conducting my exit interview during my final days at K-State. I think that’s why he replied, something along the lines of, “I mean, I have heard good things, but the ‘best two years,’ not sure about that one.”
What the interviewer didn’t know was that my time at K-State (2006-2008) came after surviving through the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Most of the three years before my arrival at the English Department were spent trying to avoid the escalating post-war violence. I was in a loop of scheduling feeding and napping times for my first born; finding ways to use the generator efficiently to do laundry and vacuum; and figure out what I was going to do with my MA in British Literature as the country was up in flames around me, literally. The thought of living a “normal” life (whatever that meant), was the last thing on my mind. Opportunity to step outside that continuous loop, came in the form of a Fulbright Scholarship to complete a second MA.
After years of studying (old, traditional) British authors back home (ahh, the effects of colonialism), the courses that I took with Greg Eiselein, Karin Westman, Lisa Tatonetti, and Elizabeth Dodd provided me with insight into the diversity of English literature. Their class discussions and guidance became the inspiration for my teaching, my research, and my creative writing as I progressed in my academic journey.
As I immersed myself in ethnic American literature, I discovered a whole field dedicated to Arab American literature with a list of Iraqi writers in the diaspora who narrated experiences that reflected my own. Exploring the works of writers, like Dunya Mikhail, for my MA thesis at K-State, was just the beginning of my research on Iraqi women’s narratives. Twenty years after the invasion, I am still passionate about those stories because they show women’s endurance and resilience in the most difficult times.
After graduating in 2008, I immigrated with my husband and two young boys to Canada. I went on to complete a PhD (2014) in autobiography from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, where I have been teaching creative writing and literature since 2015. I am currently examining the ways in which migrant women tell their stories in a forthcoming autoethnography, titled Patterns of Telling: Women’s Autobiography in the Diaspora. I also added my own voice to these narratives through a collection of poetry, From the Wounded Banks of the Tigris (Baseline Press, 2018) and a memoir, Waiting for the Rain (Mawenzi House, 2019).
In the past few years, I have participated in developing a Creative Writing Specialization for the English Language and Literature Department at UW, volunteered in helping newcomers to Canada, served on the boards of local non-profit arts organizations, and worked as a Consulting and Nonfiction Editor with The New Quarterly, a national literary magazine. I am currently putting together a collection of short stories that shed light on superstitions and the supernatural in Iraqi culture, titled The Fortune Teller and Other Stories.
While during that time at K-State, I found a family of friends and mentors, who will always hold a very special place in my heart. The confidence and curiosity that those “best two years” instilled in me, have kept me actively engaged in the academic and cultural communities that matter most to me.
— Lamees Al Ethari (MA ’08)