Nora Salem of Redlands, California, a graduate of Virginia Tech’s master of fine arts program in creative writing, won a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant to study Islamic feminism in Malaysia.
“I think it’s important to redefine what it means to be both a feminist and a practicing Muslim,” Salem said. “This project resonates with me, as I’m trying to understand my spirituality in the context of my politics.”
Salem said three thematic strands from her childhood braided together in her Fulbright project: her father’s Islamic faith, her mother’s civil rights activism, and her family’s devotion to education.
Her Egyptian father, now retired, was a playwright, a director, and an educator — in addition to being an actor in Egyptian soap operas. Her Mexican-American mother, now a teacher, was in her own youth a civil rights activist working in support of the Chicano community. Salem’s mother converted to Islam after marriage, and Salem was raised Muslim.
“My interest in studying Islamic scripture is intellectual and spiritual, but it’s also political,” Salem said. “In a sense, I want to learn more about the foundation of social justice in Islam and share what I learn with others — both Muslim and non-Muslim — through my creative nonfiction.”
Salem, who wrote a novel for her master’s thesis, said she is as ardent about writing creative nonfiction as she is about writing fiction.
Salem graduated from Wellesley College with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and worked for nonprofits in Rio de Janeiro and New York City before starting her master’s program at Virginia Tech.
Since its inception in 1946, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program has offered research, study, and teaching opportunities in more than 140 countries to recent graduates and graduate students.