New York Times best-selling author, CBS News analyst, and political commentator Reza Aslan discusses the best of the Middle East's literary leaders. He will describe cultural luminaries from Iran, Pakistan, Morocco, and Turkey and beyond. Aslan believes that the mainstream media is creating a massive American cultural blindspot by only focusing on terrorism, suicide bombings, and escalating tensions. Aslan's intention is to change that focus and bring attention to the rich literature, history, and stories of the Middle East.
Besides being an acclaimed author and the contributing editor to The Daily Beast, Aslan has also written for numerous publications including The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, and Slate. He has also appeared on television programs such as "The Rachael Maddow Show," "Meet the Press," "The Colbert Report," and "Hardball." Aslan is currently the Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside and a Research Associate at the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy.
Aslan earned a B.A. in religion from Santa Clara University, a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, a M.F.A in fiction from the University of Iowa, and a Doctorate in Sociology of Religions from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Wajahat Ali (playwright) is a Muslim American of Pakistani descent. "The Domestic Crusaders" is his first full-length play. Born and raised in Fremont, a city located in the Silicon Valley of the San Francisco Bay Area, he has been writing, producing and directing plays, films, and comedy sketches since he was a child, enlisting his friends to be actors and crew. In Fall, 2001, during his undergraduate studies at U.C. Berkeley, he hesitantly began writing "The Domestic Crusaders" in order to pass a 20 page short story assignment due for a writing class taught by Ishmael Reed, and with his encouragement, transformed the piece into a play which premiered in 2005 at the Thrust Stage of the Berkeley Repertory Theater and San Jose University Theater. In 2009, The Domestic Crusaders premiered Off-Broadway in New York at the famous Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and broke their box office records during its historic 5 week run.
Reza Aslan is a writer and scholar of religions.
Born in Iran, Aslan is currently a research associate at the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy. He was a visiting assistant professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Iowa and the Truman Capote Fellow in Fiction at the Iowa Writer's Workshop.
A frequent commentator on television, radio, and in print, Aslan is a graduate of Santa Clara University, Harvard University, and the University of Iowa. He is the author of No god but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam and How to Win a Cosmic War: Why We're Losing the War on Terror.
Zoe Ferraris moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. She lived in a conservative Muslim community with her then-husband and his family, a group of Saudi-Palestinians.
In 2006, she completed her MFA in Fiction at Columbia University. Her debut novel, Finding Nouf (published as Night of the Mi'raj in the UK) is now being published in twenty-five countries. A follow-up novel, City of Veils, was released in August, 2010.
Najva Sol is a Brooklyn- and San Francisco-based artist of all trades.
Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for the NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition and NPR.org.
Islamic scholar Reza Aslan illuminates the recent shift in American cinematic representations of the Middle East. Pointing to the difference between "300" and "Prince of Persia," Aslan attributes the change to a need for new stories in Hollywood, as well as the increasing influence of Middle Eastern communities in the United States.
Alternative artist Najva Sol discusses the profound culture clash that she has experienced as a gay Iranian-American. Pointing out that homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran, Sol speculates on whether she can even return to her home country.
Writer Wajahat Ali discusses the uphill battle minority filmmakers often face when funding projects through Hollywood studios. As an example, Ali relates one producer's unintentionally funny casting suggestion for the role of a Pakistani father.