Born in Beirut, Thérèse Soukar Chehade moved to the United States in August 1983, landing in Massachusetts, where she lives to this day. It was hot, hotter than she thought was possible in this part of the world. A few weeks later, when the temperature dropped and the leaves changed color, she took heart. It was a beautiful sight, and she was far away from the war that was still tearing her native Lebanon apart.
She’d always wanted to be a writer. She was literate in Arabic and French. Her English was functional but not extensive, and she knew next to nothing about the literary works of English-speaking countries. She took classes in English literature, fell in love with Nabokov’s and Woolf’s writings, and made up her mind to write in English. She had the temerity of a polyglot and the stoic adaptability of an immigrant, and was young enough not to appreciate the full scope of her decision.
She enrolled in the MFA program at UMass, Amherst, where she worked on a novel. She found out quickly that writing in a new language required more than a firm grasp of its grammar and vocabulary. She had to absorb a new sensibility and an aesthetic that sometimes clashed with her own. She suppressed her Arab’s taste for figurative language and her affection for the long, meandering sentences of 19th century French novels. The war she thought she had left behind crept back into her writing. She let it in.
Her first novel, Loom, was published in 2010 by Syracuse University Press and won the 2011 Arab American Award for fiction. It portrays a Lebanese-American family, the Zaydans, struggling to reckon with their memories of Lebanon’s civil war during a Vermont blizzard. We Walked On, which will be published by Regal House Publishing in Fall 2024, goes back to Lebanon and tells the stories of Hisham, a thirty-year-old Arabic teacher, and Rita, his bookish fourteen-year-old student, as their lives spiral out of control following the outbreak of that same war in April 1975.
Thérèse Soukar Chehade has spent the last two decades teaching English Language Learners at a public school in Amherst, MA. She lives in Granby, MA, where the autumn foliage still fills her heart with gladness.