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Victoria Abboud playing the qanunCommunications instructor Victoria Abboud won an award for her account of learning to play the qanun, a traditional Arabic string instrument.

Pulling strings wins creative writing contest for prof

Her efforts to connect with her Arabic heritage has won acclaim for UWindsor faculty member Victoria Abboud. The Eden Mills Writers’ Festival selected her entry for top honours in the creative non-fiction category of its Fringe Literary Contest.

A lecturer in the Department of Communications, Media and Film, Dr. Abboud teaches courses in technical writing and emerging technologies to international engineering and computer science students.

Abboud had been working on a short story about her experiences learning to play the Arabic string instrument, the qanun, when she decided to do a bit of polishing and submit it to the competition. The piece is titled “Lessons.”

“The qanun is a string instrument in the zither family, and it’s shaped kind of like a trapezoid,” she explains. “It sits on your lap or on a stand or table, and typically has 78 strings.”

Players use plectra secured on their index fingers to pluck the strings. It is a historic, traditional instrument in Arab culture and other regional cultures, including those of Armenia and Turkey. Each region has its own musical traditions with these string instruments.

“This instrument generated the Arabic music that I've grown up with, and it’s the instrument and sound that many Lebanese hear when they think about Arabic music,” Abboud says. “It’s one of about six instruments that forms the takht, the music ensemble that is the basis of traditional Middle Eastern music.”

Abboud is interested in themes of identity, belonging, and the mixing of cultures and communities, and what it means to live in what’s been called the “hyphen space.”

“I’m part Canadian, part Lebanese, part French-Canadian,” she explains. “Within that description there are a few hyphens. In my writing, I try to describe the experience of what it means to live between and among those communities and cultures. I suspect that many immigrant families have similar experiences of the hyphen space.”

Her work explores how one keeps a foot in all these different worlds, and what it does to a person’s understanding of culture and history. Family, the trauma of migration, and being part of the diaspora are all part of this exploration, as are navigating and expressing very different cultures and traditions.

“Lessons” is the first of two creative nonfiction works by Abboud that will be published this year. The second piece will be published this fall by Michigan Quarterly Review, the literary journal based at the University of Michigan.

The winners in three Fringe categories — fiction, non-fiction, poetry — were announced Aug. 24. Each will receive $150, an invitation to read their work as part of the festival’s online event series on Sept. 9, and publication of their work as part of a chapbook produced by PS Guelph.

Since 1989, the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival has been a showcase of established and emerging Canadian writers. Pre-pandemic, the hamlet northeast of Guelph closed its streets to traffic and festival goers would bring lawn chairs and blankets to enjoy readings. Since COVID, the festival has moved online. Visit the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival website for dates and descriptions of online readings and events.

—Susan McKee