–Interview by Jason R. Poole
Jeff Condran and I first met in his Intro to Fiction course at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. We’ve kept in touch over the years, during which Jeff has co-founded Braddock Avenue Books, published a story collection, A Fingerprint Repeated, and also his debut novel, Prague Summer. Jeff now teaches Creative Writing at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Jason R. Poole: Both your short story collection and your novel share focal points in the post-9/11 intersection of Arab and American cultures. What drew you to this subject matter?
Jeff Condran: In the fall of 2001, I was teaching at La Roche College in suburban Pittsburgh. The college offered a scholarship program called Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) by which students were brought from “conflict and post-conflict nations” to study in the United States. And so my classes were filled with 18-25 year old Arabs from all over the Middle East—Palestine, Jordan, Saudia Arabia, Yemen.
It was a life-changing experience to walk into class on that Tuesday in September and discover a group of what had been generally untroubled expatriate college students who were excited about being in America and see them utterly transformed. Now people saw them as the enemy or, if not, at least the sudden spokespeople for all of Arab and Islamic culture. It was a horrible position for them to find themselves in. The FBI came on to campus and interviewed many of my students, asking them questions like, “Is Osama bin Laden your uncle?” and, later, arresting and detaining those they perceived as having violated various aspects of the Patriot Act.
I felt I had to write about what I was seeing.
JRP: Prague Summer has its origin in one of the stories from your collection. What made you decide to explore the story at greater length? What was that process like? Continue reading