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Sassy, Queer, and Lebanese: Life Lessons with Rabih Alameddine

<h6>CatherineMunro / Wikimedia Commons, Ed. Paige Allen / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
CatherineMunro / Wikimedia Commons, Ed. Paige Allen / The Daily Princetonian

The first installment of the Program in Creative Writing’s C.K. Williams Reading Series, a sequence of events that “showcase senior thesis students of the Program in Creative Writing with established writers as special guests,” featured Lebanese American author Rabih Alameddine, writer of the critically acclaimed and National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, “An Unnecessary Woman.”

Held over Zoom, the event began with the quirky, full-of-life, and unapologetically authentic Alameddine sharing his essay “How to Bartend,” followed by an interview with creative writing senior thesis student Hamza Hashem ’21.

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In his essay, Alameddine recounted his earlier years as not only a bartender, but also a lover of soccer and cashmere sweaters; a directionless youth and soon-to-be writer with a Ph.D. in engineering and an MBA; and a survivor of HIV/AIDS who watched his closest friends come and go during an epidemic not altogether dissimilar from the one we face today.

Alameddine, like many of his gay male contemporaries at the time, confronted the reality of his own temporality. He recounted how, in an attempt to deal with this impermanence, he did what he thought many would do: he went on a six-month shopping spree, created a soccer team, and became a bartender who absolutely despised bartending.

This last choice dumbfounded even Alameddine, who, in his own words, discovered he didn’t like working “in one hour.” His experience as a bartender, however, would prove one of the most meaningful of his life.

Alameddine came to know a group of boisterous Irish painters who became locals at the bar — and who went on to become some of his closest friends. At a time of rampant homophobia, the Irish men didn’t care that Alameddine was gay, nor did they care that he couldn’t pour a drink if his life depended on it. Alameddine loudly resurrected the energetic and obscene banter he and “his Irish men” shared.

Eventually, Alameddine quit his bartending job and became a full time writer, never to see the Irish men again. He spoke with sadness about the other friends he left behind: his all-gay soccer team, the San Francisco Spikes, suffering death after death due to HIV/AIDS.

In his story and subsequent interview with Hashem, Alameddine emphasized three important lessons:

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First, that we should “cherish friends before they pass away.” The time we spend together with loved ones should be highly valued, and should be among our top priorities.

Second, “mistakes make us who we are.” Alameddine’s life has taken him many directions. Some might say that in hindsight, he should’ve become a writer much earlier in life, but his path gave him an authentic voice and unique perspectives that translated into beautiful stories.

Third, “our stories are important.” Seeing people who represent ourselves in the books we read is a privilege we all deserve to have. By sharing our own stories for the world to see, we ensure that the next generation will have plenty of stories featuring people of all kinds.

The next installment of the reading series, scheduled for Oct. 14 at 6 p.m. EDT, will feature Flora Thomson-DeVeaux ’13 and several seniors in the Program in Creative Writing.

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