Advisory Board

Bonnie Abaunza

bonnie-abaunza-200-oct.jpgBonnie Abaunza has dedicated her life to humanitarian work, human rights and social justice advocacy. She presently consults for the United Nations agency, the International Labour Organization, assisting with outreach to the entertainment community. She helped launch the ILO’s artist engagement program, Artworks (http://www.iloartworks.org) and spearheaded their End Slavery Now and Red Card to Child Labour campaigns. She is currently cultivating artists and athletes for the ILO’s Goodwill Ambassador Program that will launch in June, and is working on campaigns focusing on forced labour, green jobs and youth employment, and supply chains in the garment industry.

From 2009-2014, Bonnie led the Special Projects & Philanthropy division for Academy Award winning composer, Hans Zimmer. Her initiatives included raising humanitarian aid for Haiti, Pakistan and Japan for International Medical Corps, and working with Madeleine Albright and the National Democratic Institute to advocate for the disenfranchised Romani people in Europe. She launched a successful online advocacy effort with Elizabeth Warren for passage of the Dodd-Frank Bill and the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Prior to joining Hans Zimmer’s company in 2009, Bonnie served as Vice President, Social Action and Advocacy at Participant Media, where she developed social action campaigns to promote the documentaries and feature films produced by Participant Media. She has also served as Director of the Artists for Amnesty program for Amnesty International from 2001 to 2007, raising  Amnesty’s profile in the entertainment industry and the visibility of human rights campaigns with the public. 

She has received commendations for her human rights work from the United States Congress and from the City of Los Angeles, a Lifetime Achievement Award from Unlikely Heroes, Women in Leadership Award from the City of West Hollywood, Global Champion Award from the International Medical Corps., KCET Local Hero/Hispanic Heritage Award, and was named Goodwill Ambassador to the Government of East Timor (appointed by President and Nobel Peace Laureate, Jose Ramos-Horta). She is a Senior Non-Resident Fellow for Enough Project’s Fellows Program, is a Board member of the ACLU Foundation (Southern California), a Board member of thecommunity.com and Chairman of the Advisory Board of thecommunity.com’s Human Rights Campaign.

Bonnie graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science with specialization in International Relations. She is fluent in Spanish.


Mehnaz M. Afridi

mehnaz-afridi-200-oct.jpgProfessor Mehnaz M. Afridi teaches Judaism and Islam at Antioch University, Los Angeles. Originally from Pakistan, raised in Europe and the Middle East, she brings a multicultural perspective to Islam. Her deep interest in Judaism and Modern Jewish Diaspora has led her to numerous interfaith conferences, invitations by non-Muslims to expound on the intellectual and theological similarities between Jews and Muslims. Her recent research projects are focused in Italy, Muslims and Jews in Italian culture; she taught in Rome and recently received a grant from the National Endowment of Humanities to attend a seminar in Venice, Italy. Read a recent article about Mehnaz's "Ask a Muslim" lecture series. Visit her web site. In February 2008 she presented her talk, An Illuminated History of Jewish-Muslim Relations at Levantine Cultural Center.


Shohreh Aghdashloo

shohreh-aghdashloo-200.jpgShohreh Aghdashloo has worked with and been a supporting member of The Markaz/Levantine Cultural Center since 2007, when she appeared on stage in a Levantine program with author Zara Houshmand and poet Sholeh Wolpé. In 2011, on behalf of the LCC, she received a Hollywood Foreign Press Association award.

After establishing a theatre and film career in her native Iran, working with such directors as Abbas Kiarostami, Mohammad Reza Aslani and Ali Hatami, Shohreh Aghdashloo went to England during the 1979 Islamic Revolution, where she earned a B.A. in International Relations. For a time she considered becoming a full-time journalist, but emigrated to Los Angeles during the 1980s, where she married fellow Iranian actor and playwright Houshang Touzie and continued her acting career. In 2003 she co-starred with Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly in House of Sand and Fog, and subsequently received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She has worked extensively in Hollywood, in such films as X Men: The Last Stand, American Dreamz and The Lake House. Shohreh Aghdashloo has also made a name for herself in American television, in such series as 24, Will and Grace, ER and House of Sadam—for which she received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress. In 2012 she starred on the London stage as Bernarda Alba in Federico Garcia Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba. While she comes from a Muslim family, Aghdashoo has made a point of playing characters from other religions, and she has spoken out on behalf of the rights of Baha'is in Iran.


Ammiel Alcalay

ammiel-alcalay-200-oct.jpgAmmiel Alcalay is a first-generation American, born in 1956, whose family comes from former Yugoslavia and the Balkans. He is a poet, translator, critic and scholar born in Boston.Ammiel Alcalay is poet, translator, critic, scholar and activist; he teaches in the Department of Classical, Middle Eastern & Asian Languages & Cultures at Queens College and is a member of the faculties of American Studies, Comparative Literature, English, and Medieval Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center where is also Deputy Chair of the PhD Program in English. He was the first holder of the Lannan Visiting Chair in Poetics at Georgetown University and has been a visiting professor at Stanford University. His latest book, Islanders, a novel, is out from City Lights in 2010. Scrapmetal: work in progress came out with Factory School in 2007. from the warring factions [sic], a book length poem dedicated to the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, came out in 2002, and is due for a 2nd edition in 2010. Poetry, Politics & Translation: American Isolation and the Middle East, a lecture given at Cornell, was published in 2003 by Palm Press. Other books include After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture (University of Minnesota Press, 1993), the Cairo notebooks (Singing Horse Press, 1993), and Memories of Our Future: Selected Essays, 1982-1999 (City Lights, 1999). He has translated widely, including Sarajevo Blues (City Lights, 1998) and Nine Alexandrias (City Lights 2003) by the Bosnian poet Semezdin Mehmedinovic, Keys to the Garden: New Israeli Writing (City Lights, 1996), and the co-translation of a Hebrew novel (with Oz Shelach), Outcast, by Shimon Ballas (City Lights, 2007). A Little History, a book of essays on politics and poetics is due out in 2010 from Beyond Baroque. He has also been involved as an activist on many domestic and international issues. He has been a regular contributor to the Village Voice and his poetry, prose, reviews, critical articles and translations have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, Time Magazine, al-Ahram, The New Republic, Grand Street, Conjunctions, Sulfur, The Nation, and various other publications in the United States and abroad. Along with Anne Waldman and others, he was one of the initiators of the Poetry Is News Coalition, and he organized, with Mike Kelleher, the OlsonNow project. Most recently, he is the founder and general editor of Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative. He has been on the national advisory board of The Markaz/Levantine Cultural Center since 2001.


Reza Aslan

resa-aslan-200-oct.jpgDr. Reza Aslan, an internationally acclaimed writer and scholar of religions, is a contributing editor at the Daily Beast. Reza Aslan has degrees in Religions from Santa Clara University, Harvard University, and the University of California, Santa Barbara, as well as a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa, where he was named the Truman Capote Fellow in Fiction. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities, and the Pacific Council on International Policy. He serves on the board of directors for both the Ploughshares Fund, which gives grants for peace and security issues, Abraham's Vision, an interfaith peace organization, and PEN USA, as well as The Markaz/Levantine Cultural Center's national advisory board.

Aslan's first book is the New York Times bestseller, No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, which has been translated into thirteen languages, short-listed for the Guardian First Book Award in the UK, and nominated for a PEN USA award for research Non-Fiction. His most recent book is How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror, followed by an edited anthology, Words Without Borders: Writings from the Middle East, which will be published by Norton in 2010.He has written for the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Slate, Boston Globe, the Washington Post, the Nation, and others, and has appeared on Meet The Press, Hardball, The Daily Show, The Tavis Smiley Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, The Colbert Report, and Nightline.

Aslan is Cofounder and Chief Creative Officer of BoomGen Studios, the first ever motion picture company focused entirely on entertainment about the Greater Middle East and its Diaspora communities, as well as Editorial Executive of Mecca.com. Born in Iran, he now Reza Aslan has been a frequent guest on the Daily Show and many other cable news stations. His many books and edited anthologies are important contributions to the dialogue about Islam and the West, and US - Iran relations. He is now the Wallerstein Professor at Drew University's Center on Religion, Culture, and Conflict in New Jersey.


Fabian Alsultany

fabian-alsultany-200-oct.jpgDubbed by Billboard Magazine as the "World Music Impresario," Fabian Alsultany is a live event producer and music industry executive with over two decades of experience creating cutting edge concerts and tours. In 2010, he was hired by Katharine King to co-produce the Twilight Dance Concert Series on the Santa Monica Pier. He also produces the night programming at the annual TED Conference in Long Beach, CA. Alsultany's considerable reach extends throughout the music business to artists, managers and agents. He previously developed and launched the Events Division for Putumayo World Music, was Director of A&R and Festivals at Palm Pictures for music industry legend, Chris Blackwell, and founded Uprise Management where he represented some of world music's biggest stars. He founded GlobeSonic in 2000 and has been DJing parties internationally ever since. He has produced and guided the creation of dozens of albums, compilations, and concerts. Fabian brings to bare a lifelong passion for inspiring people through live music experiences. He is the cofounder of the Tadasana Festival.


Don Bustany

don-bustay-200-oct.jpgDon Bustany is an American radio and television broadcaster, known to Angelenos for his groundbreaking work on KPFK's long-running show, "Middle East in Focus." He was born in Detroit to Lebanese-American parents. He and Casey Kasem were co-creators of the syndicated radio program American Top 40 and American Country Countdown. In the 1970s, Bustany was camera coordinator of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and other MTM productions. Earlier he had produced local talk shows on several Los Angeles, California stations. He has a BA in Liberal Arts from Wayne State University and an MS in Communications from Syracuse University.

Since 1996, he has produced and hosted the radio program "Middle East in Focus" on KPFK, the Los Angeles affiliate of the Pacifica Radio network. The show's "mission is to fill the many gaps left by the mainstream media in their coverage" of the Middle East. He is a member of the advisory committee of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and, in the 1990s, served for four terms as president of the organization's Los Angeles chapter. Bustany is also a member of the board of directors of the Southern California Chapter of Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal political group. He has been an advisor to the Levantine Cultural Center since the early 2000s. In 2007, the Levantine Cultural Center presented Don with an award for his long service to the Middle Eastern community.

Sami Shalom Chetrit

sami-shalom-chetrit-200.jpgSami Shalom Chetrit is a dissident Israeli poet, educator, filmmaker and historian whose latest book The Mizrahi Struggle in Israel: 1948-2003, has been translated into Arabic by Samir Ayash and published by Madar (Ramallah). Chetrit received his Ph.D in 2001 from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Department of Political Science, writing on Mizrahi politics in Israel. He received a Master of International Affairs in 1991 from Columbia University, with a specialization in Middle Eastern studies. He was born in 1960 in Morocco and grew up in an immigrant working class neighborhood in the port city of Ashdod. His published poetry includes Poems in Ashdodians, poems from 1982-2002 (Andalus, 2003). Several of his poems appear in English translation in the anthology Keys to the Garden (City Lights 1999), edited by Ammiel Alcalay. In 2003 he co-produced and directed with Eli Hamo (cinematography and editing) the documentary film "The Black Panthers (in Israel) Speak." His new documentary is "Come Mother" on his mother's generation of Moroccan women in Israel.

Peter Cole

peter-cole-200-oct.jpgPeter Cole is the winner of a 2007 MacArthur Award. He is a translator, publisher, and poet who brings the often overlooked works of medieval Spain and the modern Middle East to English-speaking audiences.  His highly regarded translations of the poetry of Solomon Ibn Gabirol and Shmuel HaNagid, two of the great Hebrew poets of the Andalusian “Golden Age,” offer readers a lyrical illustration of the extraordinary Arab-Jewish cultural partnership that flourished in tenth- through twelfth-century Spain. 

A poet himself, Cole’s translations infuse medieval verse with contemporary meaning while remaining faithful to the original text.  His renderings of HaNagid’s poems in particular, long regarded as “untranslatable,” retain the subtleties, complexities, and formal elegance of the original verse.  Underlying Cole’s translations is an implicit message of cultural and historical cross-fertilization that is also evident in his work as a poet and a publisher.  His Ibis Editions publishes little-known works translated from Arabic, Hebrew, German, French, and Ladino, enlightening English-speaking audiences to the thriving literary tradition of the Levant.  By fostering literary dialogue in and about the Middle East, Ibis provides an occasion for intellectual and cultural collaboration.  In a region mired in conflict, Cole’s dedication to the literature of the Levant offers a unique and inspiring vision of the cultural, religious, and linguistic interactions that were and are possible among the peoples of the Middle East.

Peter Cole began his undergraduate studies at Williams College (1975-1977) and received a B.A. (1980) from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts.  He is the author of two volumes of poetry, Rift (1989) and Hymns & Qualms (1998), and has also published many volumes of translation from Hebrew and Arabic, including Selected Poems of Shmuel HaNagid (1996), Selected Poems of Solomon Ibn Gabirol (2001), Taha Muhammad Ali’s So What: New and Selected Poems, 1971-2005 (2006), and The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492 (2007).  He is the co-editor of Ibis Editions, which he co-founded in 1998, and has been a visiting writer and professor at Wesleyan University, Middlebury College, and Yale University’s Whitney Center for the Humanities in the fall of 2006.

Among Cole’s translations from contemporary Hebrew and Arabic poetry and fiction are also Love & Selected Poems of Aharon Shabtai (Sheep Meadow), J’Accuse, by Aharon Shabtai (New Directions), So What: New & Selected Poems, 1971-2005 by Taha Muhammad Ali (Copper Canyon Press), The Collected Poems of Avraham Ben Yitzhak (Ibis) and The Shunra and the Schemetterling, by Yoel Hoffmann (New Directions).

Cole has received numerous awards for his work, including fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the 1998 Modern Language Association Translation Award. J’Accuse received the 2004 PEN-America Award for Poetry in Translation.


Dorit Cypis

dorit-cypis-200-oct.jpgDorit Cypis is an award winning artist, educator and mediator. Her work has been presented internationally at museums and other cultural contexts. Foreign Exchanges, an initiative since 2007, offers conflict engagement and diversity skills through mediation and aesthetics. Dorit is Founding Member, Mediators Beyond Borders and past Chair/MBB Middle East Initiative; she founded Kulture Klub Collaborative, artists working with homeless youth to bridge survival and inspiration; directed FAR, Foundation for Art Resources, partnering with private and public organizations to support cultural production in urban settings by artists. On Policing, a current projectweaves her strengths to design community development events in vulnerable neighborhoods where local youth and police officers engage through collaborative and interdependent efforts. Dorit was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Rauschenberg Foundation Residency in 2014 and has taught throughout USA, Canada, Israel, Holland and France. She earned a Masters of Fine Art, California Institute for the Arts, and Masters of Dispute Resolution, Pepperdine University.  


Lucy DerTavitian

lucy-200-oct.jpgLucy DerTavitian is Lebanese-Armenian, born in Beirut. She has lived and traveled widely in the Middle East, and was at one time an anchor and one of the producers of KPFK 90.7 F.M, Pacifica Radio's South West Asian and North Africa collective. Lucy is also a member of Women in Black-Los Angeles as well as a speaker bureau member for Peace Over Violence. She has been a television writer in Lebanon and the United States.

Nile Regina El Wardani

nile-200-oct.jpg

Nile Regina El Wardani, MPH, MPhil, Ph.D. – For the past three years Nile has been a Professor at the American University in Cairo, Egypt where she taught in the Graduate School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. This past summer (2015) she taught in Europe for Forum-Nexus in an international Study Abroad Program. A multi-cultural person, Nile speaks English, French, Arabic and Spanish. She holds a PhD and MPhil from the University of London in Public Policy and a Master in Public Health from UCLA.

She has worked for over 25 years in Africa, the Middle East and USA as a program manager/business developer in the fields of public health and international development. She specializes in public health education, human rights, reproductive health and women’s empowerment. She was awarded the Middle East Award for Social Science Research for her research on policy, governance, human rights, and civil society. Nile has consulted for UNESCO, UNICEF, WHO, and the Egyptian Ministries of Health, Education and Information. She has worked with bilateral donors including USAID, Finnida, Danida and Dutch Aid and many NGOS in the ME and Africa. 

In the cultural realm, Nile has produced for the Metropolitan Opera, Santa Fe Music Festival, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and Carnegie Hall as well as venues in Paris and Cairo. Dedicated to improving lives and bridging gaps between people, Nile produced the world’s first pediatric AIDS benefit at Carnegie Hall in 1989 that was televised on NBC. A visionary, Nile subsequently developed the indigenous Egyptian production of Sesame Street (Alam Simsim) with a focus on nutrition, safety and hygiene. 

In media, she co-hosted/produced Radio Intifada (for five years) a weekly one-hour radio show covering the politics and culture of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) on Pacifica Radio 90.7 FM (Los Angeles). She currently serves on the UCLA School of Public Health Alumni Board of Directors and the Advisory Board of Levantine Cultural Center which champions a greater understanding of the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region by presenting cultural and educational programs that bridge political and religious divides. She covers culture, travel and design for Obelisque Magazine (Cairo, Egypt) and blogs at www.nileelwardani.org.


 JordanElgrably.pngJordan Elgrably 

Founding Director (Emeritus) of The Markaz, Jordan Elgrably made his mark on Los Angeles, organizing public programs from 1996 to 2016 that were designed to bring together American and Middle Eastern communities, including Arabs and Jews and other groups, to build relationships and address conflict.

A writer, editor, curator and producer of public programs, Jordan is of Moroccan and French heritage. He has been passionately committed to strengthening Arab/Muslim/Christian and Jewish relations for many years. In addition to The Markaz/the Levantine Cultural Center, which he co-founded in 2001, he founded the New Association of Sephardi/Mizrahi Artists & Writers International in 1996 and Open Tent Middle East Coalition in 1999. He has launched several independent projects and original initiatives, among them the Sultans of Satire: Middle East Comic Relief; BeirutLos Angeles.orgCelebratePalestine.org; and New Voices in Middle Eastern Cinema, which received majoring funding from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Golden Globes) for many years.

Jordan attended the American University of Paris (formerly ACP) and was based for a number of years in Paris and Madrid, where he worked as a journalist and associate producer for TF1. His essays, articles and stories have appeared in many anthologies and periodicals. He is a member of PEN Center, the international advocacy organization for writers and journalists; the Los Angeles Press Club, and the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association. His work has received considerable recognition and honors in many circles. In 2008, the L.A. Weekly featured Jordan in its People of the Year issue; he received the Local Hero Award from the Foundation for World Arts and Cultures in 2008; in 2011 he was an Annenberg Alchemy fellow and in 2013, 2015 and 2017, Jordan was nominated for the James Irvine Leadership Award. He is the recipient of the 2015 Rachel Corrie Conscience and Courage Award from the ADC. He was a 2016 Ariane de Rothschild Foundation Fellow. Jordan lives in France with his wife and son.


Noora Elkoussy

noora-elkoussy-200-oct.jpgNoora Elkoussy is a first-generation American of Egyptian heritage, and a graduate of Occidental College's Diplomacy and World Affairs program. Her academic specialty is the Middle East and Peace and Conflict Resolution. She has spent most of her post graduate years in the non-profit world, working in international disaster relief and international relations, and later dabbling in business. Noora is one of Levantine Cultural Center's original members, having rolled up her sleeves as a volunteer back in the days when several of the cofounders were active with Open Tent Middle East Coalition—this was in the Spring of 2001, shortly before the center was officially announced. Noora has helped to define the center's mission, and implement its public programs. Noora spent several years as the director of international programs at HOBY, a national organization which provides leadership seminars, workshops and other services to students and recent graduates. She has organized numerous international conferences. She is now based in Cairo with the International Medical Corps helping Libyan refugees.

Cheryl J. Faris

Cheryl J. Faris is a native of Fall River, Massachusetts, and has lived in Los Angeles for over 30 years. She was a corporate Labor & Employment attorney for AT&T for 21 years, and currently teaches Law and Social Studies. As a Lebanese-American, Cheryl has long been involved with the Arab-American community. She sits on the National Board of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, as well as on the local Los Angeles Steering Committee. She was the first woman president of the Arab-American Lawyers' Association. For 16 years, she served on the Executive Board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Cheryl lives with her husband Patrick King and their two college-age children.

Rebecca Gonzalez-Tobias

rebecca-tobais-200-oct.jpgRebecca Gonzalez-Tobias is an interfaith educator and social justice advocate. Program Director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics, she designs and facilitates community programming that seeks to foster a culture of peace on a local, national and international level.

In an effort to bring ethics to government and public policy she regularly addresses civic and academic institutions on behalf of Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives, forwarding the agenda outlined in Rabbi Michael Lerner's version of a Global Marshall Plan. Recently introduced to federal legislators on Capital Hill (HR1078) the bill offers practical and substantive legislative steps to expedite the eradication of poverty, homelessness and social inequity in the US and abroad.

As a fellow at the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva she assisted Special Rappateur Miguel Alfonso Martinez in the drafting of resolutions for the Working Group for Indigenous Populations for the Human Rights Sub-Commission meeting held in August 2005. Rebecca serves as a delegate to the UN's Tripartite Forum on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace and the Committee of Religious NGOs. She resides on the board of the LA-PSR's Non-nuclear Proliferation Committee, the LA planning and coordinating council for the Parliament of the World's Religions, and is a US representative of the Interfaith Encounter Association of Israel/Palestine.

She has been invited as guest lecturer and presenter on issues of ethics and inter-cultural cooperation at the Palaise de Nations in Geneva, the Global Assembly of the United Religions Initiative in Mayapur India, the IHRC/CIDH UCLA Brain Trust, California State University Northridge,  Arlington West and others. Her work has been a concerted effort to build coalitions and to empower citizen advocacy in an effort to improve the lives of all stakeholders on the planet.

Rebecca attended the University of London in 1984, graduating from Florida International University in 1989 with a degree in Political Science and Comparative Religion. In 1996 she went on to study ethics, culture and mysticism of early Christianity and Islam throughout Turkey with the Catholic Sisters of Notre Dame College. In 2003 she attended the Elijah Interfaith Academy of Jerusalem studying sacred tests of the Abrahamic faiths with Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein who is a founding member of the World Congress of Imams and Rabbis.


Nathalie Handal

Nathalie Handal is an award-winning poet, playwright, and writer. She is the author of two poetry books, The NeverField and The Lives of Rain (short-listed for The Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize/The Pitt Poetry Series and recipient of the Menada Award); two poetry CDs Traveling Rooms and Spell; the editor of The Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology (Academy of American Poets Bestseller; winner of the Pen Oakland/Josephine Miles Award); and co-editor of Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia & Beyond (Norton, 2008). Her work has been translated into more than fifteen languages and she has been featured on NPR, KPFK, PBS Radio as well as The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, Reuters, Mail & Guardian, The Jordan Times and Il Piccolo.Her poetry has also been set to music and performed at venues such as Lincoln Center; and has been featured in numerous galleries/traveling exhibitions, most recently, Glass Curtain Gallery, Chicago. Handal has been involved either as a writer, director or producer in over twenty theatrical and/or film productions. She is currently playwright-in-residence at The New York Theatre Workshop and part of the production team for the feature film, Gibran. Nathalie Handal was chosen as one of the most powerful Arab women of 2011.


Tom Hayden

Author Tom Hayden has devoted his life to peace, social justice and progressive politics. After forty years of activism, politics and writing, he still is a leading voice for ending the war in Iraq, erasing sweatshops, saving the environment, and reforming politics through greater citizen participation. Currently he is writing and advocating for US Congressional hearings on exiting Iraq. This year he drafted and lobbied successfully for Los Angeles and San Francisco ordinances to end all taxpayer subsidies for sweatshops. He recently has taught at Pitzer College, Occidental College, and Harvard's Institute of Politics. He has written eyewitness accounts forThe Nation, where he serves on the editorial board, about the global justice movements in Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Chiapas, and India.

He is the author or editor of thirteen books, including most recently Ending the War in Iraq (Akashic Books 2007); Reunion (Random House, 1988), reissued as Rebel (2002); The Lost Gospel of the Earth (Sierra Club, 1996, reissue 2006); Irish on the Inside (Verso, 2001); Street Wars (New Press, 2004); and The Port Huron Statement (Thunders Mouth, 2005). Read more about Tom Hayden.


Bana Hilal

Bana Hilal was born and raised in Beirut, where she received her B.A. from the American University of Beirut. She also has an Interior Designer Degree from the Newport Beach Interior Designer Institute, and has worked in real estate property management. Bana is a community activist who has long committed herself to humanitarian issues that involve empowering women and assisting underprivileged children, as well building bridge of understanding between diverse communities. She is Co- President of AAUW (American Association of University Women), Laguna Beach Branch—an international women's organization that advocates equity for women. She is active with the American University of Beirut, and the Daniel Bliss Society Leadership Committee, and is past president of the Lebanese Ladies Cultural Society, an organization that teaches underprivileged students in Lebanon. She is also President and Founder of WIN, Women's Intellectual Network in Orange County, a group that dedicates itself to building a strong community of women. She is a past board member of Contacts of Orange County, professional women's group, past board member of Art Matrix, an organization that encourages art as means of expression for Students, and has been a member of several organizations that provide support for the community. She has been a member of Levantine Cultural Center's national advisory board since 2007. In December 2010 she received the East-West Bridgebuilder Award, along with Jodie Evans and Roxana Saberi.


Richard Horowitz

New  York native Richard Horowitz is a composer, producer, arranger, and musician (keyboard, ney, and percussion). He is best known for his work on The Sheltering Sky, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, which was awarded the 1990 Golden Globe and LA Film Critics Music Awards;Any Given Sunday, directed by Oliver Stone, which was awarded the 2000 BMI Music Award; and Majoun an album released on Sony Classical in 1997, with Sussan Deyhim. He performed his score for 1999 Three Seasons, (directed by Toni Bui produced by Harvey Keitel, Jacon Kliot and Joanna Vincente) live at the Sundance Film Festival's 25th Anniversary Benefit in New York in 2006. Horowitz is known for creating a unique sonic language by fusing together his roots in classical, jazz and electronic music with the intensity of the trance music he first experienced in Morocco at the age of nineteen. Visit hisWiki page. Visit his site.


Elie Karam

Elie Karam is an award-winning playwright, director and actor. Born in Beirut, he fled the Lebanese civil war to Vienna and Montreal to study Dramatic Arts. Relocating to post-war Beirut, he has written and directed critically acclaimed plays exposing important issues in the Middle East. His eclecticism has led him to write for French literary magazines, teach workshops at the University of Toronto, work in advertising for Grey Worldwide as well as exhibit art work in museums and create a hit Arab TV show. He's been invited as a resident author at the Royal Court Theatre in London and his plays have been performed at the Theatre du Rond-Point in Paris and La Mama in New York. His new play "Tell Me About the War So I'll Love You" received the prestigious Beaumarchais literary grant, the Lyon Author award and has been published in France by Actes-Sud. It was produced at the world-renowned Avignon Theater Festival in 2010. Elie Karam divides his time between Beirut, Paris and Los Angeles. He is the artistic consultant for Levantine Cultural Center programs based on his many years' experience in theatre, television and public events.


Elias Khoury

Elias Khoury is currently the Global Distinguished Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University. Born in Beirut in 1948, He is the author of eleven novels, four volumes of literary criticism, and three plays. Since 1975, with the publication of his first novel, he has been in the Beirut vanguard of new Arabic literature, which was seeking to create new dimensions in the movement of modernism.

Khoury’s commitment to Palestinian human rights began when he visited a refugee camp in Jordan at age nineteen. Khoury has been an advocate ever since, devoting his energies to the Palestine Research Center in Beirut and speaking out in articles, essays, and through his fiction. Khoury is the editor in chief of the cultural supplement of Beirut’s daily newspaper, An-Nahar. In 1998, he was awarded the Palestine Prize for Gate of the Sun, and in 2000, the novel was named Le Monde Diplomatique’s Book of the Year. Elias Khoury is a public intellectual and a cultural activist who plays a major role in contemporary Arabic culture and in the defense of the liberty of expression and democracy. Khoury's latest novel to be translated into English is Yalo.

"In Humphrey Davies's sparely poetic translation, Gate of the Sun is an imposingly rich and realistic novel, a genuine masterwork." —
Lorraine Adams, New York Times

Listen to an interview with Elias Khoury.


Laila Lalami

Laila Lalami was born in Rabat, and educated in Morocco, where she earned her B.A. in English from Université Mohammed V in Rabat. She earned her M.A. from University College, London, and her Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Southern California. Her work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post and elsewhere, and has been widely anthologized.

Her debut book of fiction, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, was published in the fall of 2005 and has since been translated into Spanish, Dutch, French, Portuguese, and Italian. The book touches on a theme familiar to many Americans: illegal immigration. However, this collection of short stories tells of young people making a harrowing journey by boat from Morocco to Spain, all in search of a better life. She was short-listed for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2006. She is currently Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California Riverside. Her first novel, Secret Son, was published in 2009. While Lalami’s North African upbringing influences both her writing and her teaching, she uses her full life experience to “inform her work.” Visit her site.


Mark LeVine

Mark LeVine a scholar, musician and activist with well over a decade of experience living and working in the Middle East, from Morocco to Iraq. As an guitarist and 'oudist he has worked with Mick Jagger, Ozomatli, world music artist Hassan Hakmoun and blues and jazz greats Dr. John and Johnny Copeland. As an activist he has worked with various groups within the global peace and justice movement and spoken at some of its seminal gatherings, such as the Prague S26 Countersummit against the IMF in 2000. As a journalist he has written widely in the US and European press, including Le Monde, the Christian Science Monitor, Middle East Report, and Asia Times. As a scholar he has held positions at the International Center for Advanced Studies at New York University, the Society for Humanities at Cornell University, and the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. LeVine is presently Associate Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History, Culture and Islamic Studies at the University of California, Irvine. His other books include Twilight of Empire: Responses to Occupation (co-editor, Perceval Press, 2003), Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv and the Struggle for Palestine(University of California Press, 2004) and Religion, Social Practice, and Contested Hegemonies: Reconstructing Muslim Public Spheres, (co-editor, Palgrave Press, 2005).Two of his most recent books are Why They Don't Hate Us, Unveiling the Axis of Evil (One World 2005) and Heavy Metal Islam, Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam, Random House (July 2008). Read an interview with LeVine.


Alfred Madain

Alfred Madain aka DJ Al-Fareed was born and raised in Jordan and has traveled widely throughout the Arab/Islamic world. He moved to Los Angeles in 1980. He received his B.A. and teaching credential from California State University Los Angeles, and is currently completing course work for an M.A. He has more than 15 years of experience in the education field. He has also worked in the field of Arabic music and ethnomusicology and produces the online radio show, Radio Al-Fareed. He has given lectures on the understanding of musical expression through the understanding of regional dialect. His work with Muwashahat (a musical form based on an Arabic poetic form invented in the 9th century) has given him an exceptional understanding of the form and structure of the language. He has attended many conferences and workshops on English language acquisition and has worked on applying those theories to the Arabic language. He has worked individually to coach singers and actors in the Los Angeles area, helping them acquire conversational ability for their work. Alfred has also worked on the music for several theatrical productions, and has been a performer in the Kan Zaman orchestra since its inception in the 1990s. Alfred has been a supporter and activist with the Levantine Cultural Center for most of its history.


Juliana Maio

Born in Egypt, raised in France and formally educated in the United States, Juliana Maio is an entertainment attorney, writer, and co-founder with her husband, producer, Michael Phillips, of Lighthouse Productions, a film and television company based in Los Angeles

Juliana has recently completed her first novel, Cairo, a work of historical fiction that takes place in the fall of 1941, when Egypt, under British "protection", looked likely to be next to fall to the Axis powers. Had that happened, the entire outcome of the war could have changed 

The story follows an American journalist who is searching for a refugee scientist believed to be hiding within Cairo's large Jewish community. Juliana's lifelong interest in her own roots and in the history of Jewish-Arab relations inspired her to write this novel, which is now being developed as a motion picture film.


Saree Makdisi

Lebanese-Palestinian-American scholar and writer Saree Makdisi has already carved a niche for himself in academic and intellectual circles. He is the author of Romantic Imperialism: Universal Empire and the Culture of Modernity and William Blake and the Impossible History of the 1790s. Also a prolific writer on political affairs, in 2008 he published his third book,Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation (Norton). He has written in publications ranging from Studies in Romanticism, the Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, Race and Imperial Culture, and the Cambridge Companion to English Literature, 1740-1830, to the South Atlantic QuarterlyBoundary 2Critical Inquiry, and the London Review of Books. On a recent visit to Cairo, Makdisi gave three lectures at Ain Shams University and the American University in Cairo on "The revival of Orientalism", "William Blake" and the "Palestinian Nakba."


Terrence McNally

Terrence McNally is a radio host (KPFK 90.7fm in LA, WBAI 99.5fm in NY), featured journalist at Alternet.org, and a popular speaker, consultant and coach, specializing in message, story, and narrative for nonprofits and social entrepreneurs. A few years out of Harvard, Terrence left Boston and teaching for Los Angeles and the entertainment industry. He wanted to reach larger audiences. After twenty years as an actor, director, screenwriter (Earth Girls Are Easy—starring Geena Davis, Jeff Goldblum and Jim Carrey), songwriter and record producer (classic novelty songs and Julie Brown's Goddess in Progress, #4 EP in the Village Voice 1985 Critics Poll), he realized he wasn't fulfilling his vision. Now it all comes together in his media and consulting work, as he seeks, spreads, and encourages stories of a world that just might work.

On Free Forum—his weekly radio show in Los Angeles (KPFK 90.7fm) and New York (WBAI 99.5fm)—McNally engages the most visionary thinkers, writers, and doers he can find to make sense of the current moment and shed light on the path ahead.

One week Michael Lewis explains the Wall Street crash, the next Father Greg Boyle and one of the thousands of gang members he's hired at LA's Homeboy Industries, offer hope. Other recent guests include Atul Gawande MD of The New Yorker, Temple Grandin, Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, outspoken Afghanistan Parliament member Malalai Joya, Cornel West, Craig Venter, and Robert Wright. Guests are invited to express their authentic selves, share their passion as well as their ideas, and explore new territory. Finally, Terrence makes sure complex and important ideas make sense to listeners. All based on the fact that he believes we can do better, and wants to find out how. McNally is also a recurring host on KCRW's syndicated NPR shows, To the Point and Left, Right, and Center. Interviews appear in print at AlterNet.org/.

As a speaker, writer, consultant, and coach, Terrence helps foundations, non-profits, public agencies, and progressive corporations tell their best stories. He speaks and offers workshops on how to tap the unique power of narrative—not only to engage audiences, both inside and outside your organization, but also to better define for yourself who you are. He works with individuals and organizations to more effectively deliver their messages in person or in writing, live or through the media.

Clients include Arent Fox, Bank Of America Neighborhood Excellence Initiative, CERES, CDC/Centers for Disease Control, Friends Of The Earth, Glaxo-SmithKline Patient Advocates, Greenpeace USA, Intel Corporation, Interface Flooring, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, John D. & Catherine T. Macarthur Foundation, Herman Miller, NASA, NASD Investor Education Foundation, Nemours Foundation, Pfizer Foundation, US Climate Action Network, and Volunteers Of America.

McNally is also a respected facilitator and moderator. In practice, he models and promotes respect and productive listening, encourages and focuses communication, creativity, and cooperation; resolves conflicts; clarifies and aligns vision, mission and objectives; and develops plans for effective action.

He is also co-author with Hyla Cass MD of Kava: Nature's Answer to Stress, Anxiety, and Insomnia. Terrence has served on the boards of Earth Communications Office, Show Coalition, and Education 1st, and is an annual participant at the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, Colorado.

Visit his web site


Vera Mijojlic

Vera Mijojlic has been a journalist and cultural reporter as a well as an activist on behalf of human rights and refugees. Hailing from ex-Yugoslavia, her career path reflects her diverse interests in cinema, history, cultural heritage and the politics of culture of the Balkans and Eastern Europe. In Los Angeles since 1992, she founded the first-ever festival of films from South East Europe, the Southeast European Film Festival. Prior to 1992 Vera worked for major international motion picture companies filming in ex-Yugoslavia, including location filming for the historic ’84 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo. She also served as director of marketing and PR for the Avala Film Studios in Belgrade, and wrote extensively about films and cultural events for numerous daily papers, magazines, and cultural reviews. Vera is a frequent public speaker at trade and community events, and guest lecturer at universities. She takes pride in her community service, and has a distinguished record in humanitarian work.


Amitis Motevalli

Although new to the Levantine advisory board in 2012, Amitis Motevalli was privy to the early conversations about creating a Middle Eastern cultural arts center for Los Angeles back in 2000. Born in Tehran, Iran, Amitis moved to the US in 1977; in 1995 she received a BA from SFSU in Art with a minor in Women's studies, and in 1998 an MFA from Claremont Graduate University. Her work as an artist incorporates a combination of near-eastern aesthetic with a western art education. Motevalli states, "Being an immigrant in the US shows in my work cultural plurality, natural and learned. In all of my work, I create a dialogue that presents alternatives to dominant canons in research and reflection of the present as well as history." 

Amitis Motevalli is a recent recipient of the Center for Cultural Innovation Artistic Innovation Award, the Danish Arts Council International Resident Artist Award, the California Community Foundation Fellowship and the Visions of California Award, a James Irvine Foundation Fellowship and the NEA/Warhol Foundation artist fellow. Motevalli is also the director of The William Grant Still Arts Center. She currently lives and works in Los Angeles, exhibiting art internationally as well as organizing to create an active and resistant cultural discourse through information exchange, either in art, pedagogy or organizing artist and educators. Visit her site.


Babak Nahid

Babak Nahid is Founder and President of Nonprofitopia, a peer-based non-profit consultancy dedicated to helping nonprofit organizations fulfill their mission. A non-profit management consultant, educator and publisher, Babak has launched and led innovative, sustainable programs that help improve quality of life for diverse populations at world-class organizations including the University of California, Relief International, Doctors Without Borders and the American Red Cross. He is also the founder and publisher of Suitcase, an international journal of culture and human rights.

An Angeleno born in Iran and educated in the UK and the US, Babak is currently exploring new ways in which technology and the Internet can help inspire, empower and grow progressive communities and organizations by enabling collaborative problem-solving, knowledge bartering, and an open global exchange of social and cultural capital.


Mariam Atash Nawabi

Mariam Atash Nawabi is an attorney, social entrepreneur, and activist. A founding member of the Afghanistan Advocacy Group—a national network of Americans engaging with policymakers regarding development and security in Afghanistan-she has experience in the legal, diplomatic, business, media and civil society sectors. Mariam served as Senior Advisor to the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce and Afghanistan International Chamber of Commerce, and has also worked at the Embassy of Afghanistan, serving as Commercial & Trade Counsel. She was actively involved in promoting investment to Afghanistan and market development in Afghanistan.

Mariam has also taken part in international conferences and speaking engagements on issues related to Afghanistan's economic development, legal reform, women's rights, and civil society capacity building. In May 2003, Mariam traveled to Afghanistan to meet with women leaders, organizations and members of the Constitutional Commission regarding approaches to women's rights in the new constitution. Mariam currently serves on the Board of Directors of several nonprofit organizations engaged in capacity building efforts in Afghanistan, including the American University Foundation of Afghanistan, Aschiana Foundation, and Nooristan Foundation. She is a graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center (J.D., cum laude 1999), where she served on the editorial board of Law and Policy in International Business and of George Mason University (B.A., International Studies, summa cum laude, 1995), where she was a recipient of the Peat-Marwick, Datatel and John C. Wood scholarships and a White House intern. Mariam joined LCC’s national advisory board in May 2009.


Karman Pasha

At the age of three, Pasha moved from Karachi, Pakistan, his birthplace, to the primarily Hasidic Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park, New York. After graduating from Dartmouth with a degree in Comparative Religion, he became a journalist at the Wall Street Journal, where he subsequently interviewed top world figures such as former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. Pasha tenrolled at Cornell Law School and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. With his joint JD/MBA degrees, he began working as an attorney at the prestigious New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. He then moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in Hollywood. He served as the writer and co-producer of the Emmy-nominated terrorism drama, Sleeper Cell. Pasha also holds an MFA from UCLA film school. He is a writer and producer of NBC's series Kings, which is a modern day retelling of the Biblical tale of King David. Previously he served as a writer on NBC's remake of Bionic WomanRead his blog. His web site.


Miko Peled

Miko Peled is the author of The General's Son: An Israeli Journey in Palestine. He is a peace activist who was born in Jerusalem into a well-known Zionist family. His grandfather, Dr. Avraham Katsnelson was a Zionist leader and signer on the Israeli Declaration of Independence. His father, Matti Peled was a young officer in the war of 1948 and a general in the war of 1967 when Israel conquered the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and the Sinai. Miko's unlikely opinions reflect his father's legacy. General Peled was a war hero turned peacemaker. The general clearly stated that contrary to claims made later, the 1967 war was one of choice, and not because there was an existential threat to the state of Israel. He then dedicated his life to the achievement of Israeli Palestinian peace. Once a two-stater, today Miko believes in a binational democratic state for Israelis and Palestinians living together in what was Mandate Palestine. Visit mikopeled.wordpress.com.


Heather Raffo

Heather Raffo is the recipient of a Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Special Commendation and the Marian Seldes-Garson Kanin Fellowship for "Nine Parts of Desire". Most recently she has received a 2005 Lucille Lortel award for Best Solo show as well as an Outer Critics Circle Nomination and a Drama League nomination for Outstanding Performance.

Raffo's other recent acting credits include: Sarah Woodruff in the world premiere of The French Lieutenant's Woman, Fulton Opera House. Off-Broadway: Over The River and Through the Woods, the Off Broadway/National Tour of Macbeth (Lady Macbeth), The Merry Wives of Windsor (Mistress Page) and The Rivals all with The Acting Company. Regionally: Othello (dir. Jack O'Brien), Romeo and Juliet (dir. Daniel Sullivan), As You Like It (dir. Stephen Wadsworth), Macbeth (dir. Nicholas Martin), and Comedy of Errors (dir. John Rando) all with The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego.

Raffo received her BA from the University of Michigan, her MFA from the University of San Diego and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London. Originally from Michigan, she now divides her time betwee New York and Los Angeles. Her father is from Iraq and her mother is American. She dedicates "Nine Parts of Desire" to the many members of her family still living in Baghdad today and to the Iraqi women she has interviewed. Visit her web site.


Diane Shammas

Diane Shammas received her Ph.D. in educational policy at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Pitzer College, Claremont, California. Given the prejudicial attitudes that have been aimed towards Arab Americans and Muslims post 9/11, she has focused her dissertation on the relationships between campus social relations, racial campus climates, and student sense of school belonging among Arab and Muslim community college students. Among her recent publications is "Research on Race and Ethnic Relations Among Community College Students", in the Community College Review, (Volume 32, Number 4, April 2007) written with doctoral advisor, Dr. William E. Maxwell. She also published "Post 9/11 Arab and Muslim community college students: Ethno-religious enclaves and perceived discrimination" in the Community College Journal of Research and Practice (March 2009, Vol. 33, 283-308). Diane was nominated for the Dissertation Award of the year 2008-2009 and received a dissertation fellowship for the year while writing her dissertation. 

Prior to returning to the University of Southern California for her doctoral degree, Diane was in the women's fashion industry, wholesale and retail for twenty-three years. She also owned women's retail apparel stores in Los Angeles and Newport Beach.

Diane is of Lebanese heritage, and was inspired to be both proud of and affirm her Middle Eastern, Arab, and Lebanese heritage through her father, who was the first president of the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the World Lebanese Cultural Union.


Ella Habiba Shohat

Professor Ella Habiba Shohat teaches cultural studies and Middle Eastern studies at New York University. She has lectured and published extensively on issues having to do with race, gender, Eurocentrism, Orientalism, post/colonialism, transnationalism and diaspora, often transcending disciplinary and geographical boundaries. A substantial part of her work has examined theses issues in relation to the question of Arab Jews. Her books include: winner of the Katherine Singer Kovacs Award Kathrine Unthinking Eurocentrism (co-authored with Robert Stam, Routledge, 1994), Taboo Memories, Diasporic Voices (Duke University Press, 2006), Israeli Cinema: East/West and the Politics of Representation (University of Texas Press, 1989), Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age (MIT 1998), as well as the co-edited volumes, Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation and the Postcolonial Perspectives (University of Minnesota Press, 1997), Multiculturalism, Postcoloniality and Transnational Media (Rutgers University Press, 2003), and The Cultural Politics of the Middle East in the Americas to be published by the University of Michigan Press. Flagging Patriotism: Crises of Narcissism and Anti-Americanism, in collaboration with Stam, was recently published by Routledge Press, and currently they are in the final stages of writing The Culture Wars in Translation (to be published by NYU press).


Janet Sternburg

Janet Sternburg is a poet and essayist, best known in the literary world for editing the classic two-volume set, The Writer on Her Work, long recognized as a groundbreaking work on women and writing. Norton issued a special anniversary edition in 2000 with a new introduction by Julia Alvarez. The Writer on Her Work has been named one of the 500 Great Books by Women: Thirteenth Century to the Present, and has been recognized by the Literary Guild, Writers Digest Book Club, Quality Book Club and the Common Reader.

Sternburg has also had a career in film and theater. She produced and directed award-winning films for public television, among them Virginia Woolf: The Moment Whole, featuring Marian Seldes, on being a woman and a writer. She created, curated, and wrote the thirteen-part series, Through Her Eyes, the first nationally televised series of independent films by women. In addition, Sternburg served as the Senior Program Officer in Media for the Rockefeller Foundation, where she directed an international fellowship program. For seven years she served as director of the Writers in Performance Series at the Manhattan Theatre Club, where she pioneered new ways to present literature on stage. Those events included Stockard Channing in Colette and Zoe Caldwell in Isak Dinesen.

Also an accomplished photographer, Sternburg's photography has been exhibited nationally and internationally, purchased by major collectors, and is in the permanent collection of the museum of the University of Southern California. In 2002, a six-page portfolio of her work appeared in the distinguished international photography magazine Aperture, along with a solo show at the James Francis Trezza gallery in New York City. Art Journal also published an eight-page portfolio of her work.

Sternburg currently is a member of the faculty of critical studies at the California Institute of the Arts, where she teaches in the writing program. She has received many awards and fellowships including the Albert Camus Award in French Literature from the New School, the Dale Djerassi Fellow at the Djerassi Artist Residence Program, and fellow of the MacDowell Colony, the Millay Colony and the Blue Mountain Artist Retreat, as well as multiple National Endowment for the Humanities grants. She currently serves on the board of directors of PEN Center West, where she has served as vice president and chair of the Literary Awards.


Rowan Storm

Rowan Storm has been an active member and performer with the  Levantine Cultural Center for several years. In 2012 she joined the national  advisory board. With more than 25 years of experience with cultures and drumming of the Middle East and Mediterranean, Rowan Storm is recognized internationally as a performer, educator and frame drum designer. Rowan is pioneering the symmetrical frame drum playing position with her most recent design, Remo's Thinline Frame Drum. The narrow frame and light weight enable both hands to engage equally in creative rhythmic expression, promoting balance between both brain hemispheres. Rowan's first signature drum is an updated version of the archetypal women's frame drum of Iran, the Rowan Storm Dayereh by Cooperman and by Remo.

Based in Athens, Greece for many years, Rowan has collaborated with some of the greatest masters of Middle Eastern music, including Naser Musa, Soheil Kaspar, Souren Baronian, Ross Daly, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Sahba Motallebi and Mohammad Reza Lotfi. Rowan teaches frame drum workshops and performs in prestigious venues throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, including Istanbul's Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall, Ankara's Middle East Technical University, Greece's Epidavros Ancient Amphitheater, European Music Conservatories, New York's Lincoln Center, San Francisco's Asian Art Museum, Craft and Folk Art Museum of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).Visit her site.


Sandy Tolan

Sandy Tolan, an associate professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, is a radio and print journalist who has reported from more than 30 countries over the last 28 years. He is the author of two books and has written for more than 40 newspapers and magazines, and produced hundreds of documentaries and features for NPR and Public Radio International. Since 1982 he has reported from American Indian country, along the U.S.-Mexico border, across New England and the American West, in Latin America, the Middle East, the Balkans, Eastern Europe, and South and East Asia. A central focus of his work has been the intersection of land conflicts, racial and ethnic identity, natural resources, and the global economy. He is a co-founder of Homelands Productions, an independent production company focusing on documentary work for public radio. He was a lead producer for the Homelands series Working, monthly profiles on workers around the world broadcast on public radio's Marketplace. Currently he is senior producer for The Hunger Chronicles (in development), an international documentary collaboration with NPR and Magnum Photos.

Sandy is the author of two books: Me and Hank, A Boy and His Hero 25 Years Later, an exploration of race and sports in America; and The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, which was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle award, and which won Booklist's "Top of the List" award in nonfiction, and the Christopher Award for works "affirming the highest values of the human spirit." The book also won honorable mention for the Sophie Brody Medal for Outstanding Achievement in Jewish Literature from the American Library Association.

Sandy has garnered more than 25 national and international journalism awards, mostly for his radio work, including a duPont-Columbia Silver Baton, three Robert F. Kennedy awards, a United Nations Gold Medal award, and two honors from the Overseas Press Club. He has written for the New York Times Magazine, Audubon, the Nation, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, the Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, and dozens of other publications. He was a 1993 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.


Jihad Turk

Jihad Turk, the Director of Religious Affairs at the Islamic Center of Southern California, has dedicated himself to improving the relations between the Muslim community and other faith traditions here in Southern California. Having been born to a Muslim-Palestinian father and a Christian-American mother in Phoenix Arizona, Jihad spent his college years traveling the Muslim world and exploring his roots and the Islamic tradition. He spent time in both the Islamic University of Medina where he studied Arabic and Islamic Studies and to Iran where he studied Farsi at the University of Tehran and in Qum. He completed his undergraduate study at the University of California, Berkeley where he received his B.A. degree in History and Arabic.

After marrying his wife Anjum in 1995, Jihad went on to complete his Master's degree at the University of Texas, Austin in Arabic and Islamic law and jurisprudence. Jihad and his wife have been in Southern California since 1999. He is currently on staff as adjunct faculty at UCLA, Southwestern Law School, and the Claremont School of Theology where he teaches courses on Arabic, Islamic Law, History, and Theology and is working to complete his Ph.D. at UCLA in Islamic Studies.

Jihad has been serving as the Religious Director at the Islamic Center of Southern California since 2005. In addition to serving the religious needs of his community, Jihad focuses much of his attention on interfaith work. He has organized many interfaith events including an annual interfaith 9-11 memorial held at the Islamic Center. He is currently serving as president of the Wilshire Center Interfaith Council, which sponsors, among other events, an annual interfaith trip to the Holy Land. Having served in March 2006 and October 2007 as one of the religious leaders on that trip, Jihad is scheduled to lead a new group of Christians, Jews, and Muslims on a similar pilgrimage in March 2012.

Jihad has twice accompanied Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge to France for conferences focusing on the integration of ethnic and religious minorities in our respective societies and was featured in a documentary produced by the Annenberg Foundation's Explore.org about the Abrahamic faiths, entitled "Traveling with Jihad."

Together with an Episcopal Priest, Jihad founded and currently sits as co-chair of the Christian-Muslim Consultative Group, a group comprised of major Christian and Muslim denominations and organizations intent on understanding each other and working together on common goals. He is also a religious director at the University of Southern California advises and serves the needs of the Muslim students on campus.

In addition to hls role on the national advisory board of the Levantine Cultural Center, Jihad sits on the board of a Muslim-Jewish peace organization, the Salaam Shalom Educational Foundation, which is developing a model for education that nurtures understanding and peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. Jihad has received awards for his religious leadership by Congresswoman Jane Harmon, the Valley Interfaith Council, and the South Coast Interfaith Council and has been acknowledged as a Local Hero in 2008 by the World Festival of Sacred Music.


Terrence Ward

Terence Ward is the author of the acclaimed memoir Searching for Hassan, which recounts the story of he and his family's return to Iran after an absence of more than 25 years. The film rights were purchased by James Ivory and the screenplay is being written in Tehran by Kambouzieh Partovi, with the film to be directed by Bahman Gobadi. Terence recently wrote to tell us that, "They are taking gamble, but they really believe that the film could 'make history' by presenting a different face of the extraordinary people in Iran...who are so far removed from the lunatic politicians. In fact, everyone now agrees that Bush and Ahmedinejad are two heads of the same coin."

Searching for Hassan is the wondrous and touching story of the Wards' quixotic journey, ultimately rewarded by an emotional reunion with their lost friend. They travel into an unimaginably rich Persian past, to the very origins of civilization, and across the landscape of contemporary Iran, a surreal kaleidoscope of ancient traditions and Western pop culture. Ward creates a vivid portrait of Islam's unique imprint and explores the deep conflicts between Iran and its Arab neighbors, anticipating the new "Great Game" now being played out in central Asia. Ward's keen knowledge of Iranian culture and history, infused with the urgency of his personal journey, reveals a country that is both wildly alien and inextricably linked to the American imagination. 

Terry was born in Boulder, Colorado, and spent his childhood in Saudi Arabia and Iran. He speaks Arabic, Italian, Greek, Indonesian, and Farsi and has been a management consultant advising corporations and governments in the Islamic world. He divides his time between Florence, Italy and New York. Recently he spoke in Rome with Israeli novelist A. B. Yehoshua on "Multi-culturalism and Literature in the Global Conflict."


Susanna Whitmore

Susanna Whitmore is a native of Los Angeles and a descendent of one of L.A.’s Hispanic founding families whose roots go back to California’s pre-mission days. She spent many years abroad, living and traveling extensively in both Mexico and Spain. An ongoing interest in Arabic music and culture led her to teach and perform Middle Eastern dance during her seven years in Spain, while she also pursued studies in Flamenco and North Africa dance forms. More recently she has made a point of attending the Middle East Music and Dance Camp in Mendocino each year.

Upon her return to L.A. in the 80s, Susanna went to work for La Opinión, L.A.’s Spanish-language daily newspaper, where she expanded the portfolio of advertisers, served as a cultural liaison between corporate America and the Hispanic community, collaborated on various sales-related projects with the Los Angeles Times. Susanna also worked as VP of Sales at the Wave Community Newspapers, a group of weekly publications targeting Southern California’s African American and Hispanic communities. 

Currently Susanna is a co-founder/part owner of a multicultural market research boutique as Principal and SVP of Business Development where she has developed key relationships within major corporations and multicultural advertising agencies, selling Hispanic, Asian and African American consumer-related qualitative and quantitative research and consulting. She has also spearheaded documentary-style film production, complimenting studies on Hispanic urban youth, barbershop discussions with African American men, identity making among Hmong students, an exposé on L.A.’s Asian Indian community, and the growth of store-front Evangelical churches catering to Hispanic immigrants. 

Susanna graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies combining Spanish Literature, History and Anthropology. She is currently working on a Master’s Degree in Cultural Anthropology at California State University, Los Angeles. Her thesis topic is on the cultural movement evolving within the Middle Eastern music scene in Los Angeles, and the musicians that are using musical performance and collaboration to encourage intercultural exchange and understanding to promote a dialogue of co-existence and peace. Her goal is to make a documentary film to narrate this growing movement.


Sholeh Wolpé

Sholeh Wolpé serves on Levantine Cultural Center's national advisory board and is the poetry editor at Levantine Review, an online journal about the Middle East. She is an award-winning poet, literary translator and writer. Born in Iran, Sholeh has lived in England, Trinidad and the United States. She is the author of two collections of poetry Rooftops of Tehran, and The Scar Saloon, and a book of translations, Sin: Selected Poems of Forugh Farrokhzad for which she was awarded the Lois Roth Translation Prize in 2010.

Sholeh is a regional editor of Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East edited by Reza Aslan (Norton), the editor of 2010 Iran issue of the Atlanta Review which became the journal's bestselling edition, and the editor of an upcoming anthology of poems from Iran, The Forbidden: Poems from Iran and Its Exiles (University of Michigan State Press, 2011). She is also a contributing editor of Los Angeles Review of Books.

Sholeh's poems, translations, essays and reviews have appeared in scores of literary journals, periodicals and anthologies worldwide, and have been translated into several languages. She has been thrice nominated for the Pushcart Prize and been featured on NPR, Voice of America and Dodge Poetry Festival. Sholeh holds Masters degrees in Radio-TV-Film (Northwestern University) and Public Health (Johns Hopkins University). She lives in Los Angeles.


Elio Zarmati

Elio Zarmati—A native of Egypt, Elio Zarmati is a consultant to software and hardware companies in the area of dubbing and subtitling motion pictures and streaming video, Elio has been the CEO of VoxWorks. As the former President and CEO of Gelula & Co., Inc., a company he built into the world's premier provider of subtitles for DVD in thirty-four languages, Elio has been instrumental in developing industry-wide processes and standards for both theatrical and DVD release of subtitled films.

Prior to this, he enjoyed a career as a director, writer, producer and editor of motion pictures and television films in Europe and the United States. Born in Egypt of Italian-French Jewish parents, Elio moved to France after the Suez War and received a bilingual education in France and England. A graduate of the University of Paris, (Sorbonne), he joined the staff of the NBC News Paris Bureau in 1968 as a reporter and covered the student uprisings all over Europe. In 1973, he established permanent residence in Los Angeles. He serves on the Advisory Board of Levantine Cultural Center and on the Advisory Board of the International Rescue Committee. He previously owned the Local Hero bookstore in Ojai, California, where he also runs DMZ Publishing.


Joyce Zonana

Joyce Zonana, born in Cairo and raised in New York City, earned her Ph.D. in English at the University of Pennsylvania. Before coming to BMCC (Borough of Manhattan Community College) in 2006, she taught for 15 years at the University of New Orleans, where she was also Director of Women’s Studies. Several chapters from her new memoir, Dream Homes: From Cairo to Katrina, an Exile's Journey (Feminist Press 2008), have appeared in journals and books, including Meridians, International Sephardic Journal, Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, and Becoming American: Personal Essays by First Generation Immigrant Women. Her scholarly articles, on feminist theory and 19th century British literature, have appeared in Hudson Review, Signs, Victorian Poetry, Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, and Journal of Narrative Technique.