Barakat, Ibtisam 1963–

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Barakat, Ibtisam 1963–


Born October 2, 1963, in Beit Hanina, E. Jerusalem, Palestine; immigrated to United States June 9, 1986. Education: Birzeit University, degree (English literature); University of Missouri—Columbia, M.A. (journalism), M.A. (human development and family studies). Hobbies and other interests: Reading, especially works by Nobel Prize winners in literature; photography; languages; music.


Home and office—Columbia, MO. E-mail—[email protected].


Memoirist, poet, songwriter, speaker, journalist, Mideast scholar, educator, photographer, and translator. Human rights activist; U.S. delegate to third United Nations World Conference for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Stephens College, instructor of language ethics; founder and leader of Write Your Life seminars.

Awards, Honors

American Library Association Notable Book designation, National Council of Social Studies/Children's Book Council Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies designation, and Middle East Outreach Council Best Literature Award, all 2007, all for Tasting the Sky.


Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2007.

Poetry included in anthologies such as The Flag of Childhood, edited by Naomi Shihab-Nye, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2002, and online. Essays included in What a Song Can Do, edited by Jennifer Armstrong, Knopf (New York, NY), 2004, and in periodicals and online sites.


Ibtisam Barakat has long lived under the shadow of war. At age three, she fled with her family from their home in the Palestinian city of Ramallah to Jordan to escape the terror of the Six-Day War. After the war ended, the Barakat family returned to Ramallah and lived under the Israeli occupation. "Ever since the Six-Day War I have had a huge amount of fear that separated me from my mind and my memory, from all sorts of things in me," the author later explained to interviewer Robert Hirschfield for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. "Fear is another level of occupation…. It holds your life energy hostage. My life's goal is to create bridges across the fear to new possibilities." In 1986, Barakat moved to New York City to work as an intern at the Nation magazine. She then studied journalism and human development at the University of Missouri—Columbia and began writing what would become her memoir for young adults, Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood. She taught language ethics at Stephens College, and founded Write Your Life seminars "because the society needs everyone's voice and everyone's story," as she told SATA. Barakat eventually became a U.S. delegate to the third United Nations World Conference for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Barakat's memoir begins in 1981 when, at age seventeen, she was returning home to Ramallah by bus after visiting her post-office box in a neighboring town. Stopped at a check point run by Israeli soldiers, Barakat was told by a soldier that her city was destroyed. She, along with everyone else on the bus, was transferred to a detention center. The experience brought back all her memories of fear during the Six-Day War. "What makes the memoir so compelling is the immediacy of the child's viewpoint," wrote Hazel Rochman in a review of Tasting the Sky for Booklist. A critic for Publishers Weekly noted that Barakat's "understated tone lacks self-pity and thus allows readers to witness her fear and hope." Nomi Morris, writing in Biography, called the memoir "a lyrical journey through dislocation and occupation," and Kathleen Isaacs commented in School Library Journal that Barakat's description of her homeland and culture "brings to life a Palestinian world" readers "will come to know and appreciate."

Although introducing young readers to Palestinian life and culture was not Barakat's first goal, it is a goal in keeping with her efforts to help in healing the hurts of racial injustices and prejudice. "In the face of destructive thoughts and the stereotypes that accompany political strife, human kindness really goes very far," she told Rick Margolis in a School Library Journal interview. Discussing why she geared her memoir for teen readers, she told Hirschfield: "Part of me has remained a child because of that war. So, part of me is in complete empathy with all children, and the parts of people that are children."

"My biggest struggle and achievement in writing Tasting the Sky was in sorting through the relationship between the young voice and the adult voice," Barakat explained to SATA. "In order to allow the voice of the young person to speak freely and to tell this story, I had to fight continually to make sure the adult mindset did not interfere, but rather did the hard work of getting out of the way. It was like pushing the walls of the society to create a larger playground for a child, and making sure all the playing is on the young person's terms.

"I think that to remember what it was like to be a young person is to remember the core and the root of ourselves. As a child I was very concerned with the joy of simply being alive and the understanding of every thing in my environment. As I remain true to that intent, I maintain a sense of continuity. I can look into my inner mirror and recognize who I am no matter where I happen to be."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Biography, summer, 2007, Nomi Morris, review of Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood, p. 413.

Booklist, March 15, 2007, Hazel Rochman, review of Tasting the Sky, p. 48.

Publishers Weekly, April 2, 2007, review of Tasting the Sky, p. 59.

School Library Journal, May, 2007, Rick Margolis, "Give Peace a Chance," p. 32, and Kathleen Isaacs, review of Tasting the Sky, p. 148.

Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 2007, Suzi Steffen, review of Tasting the Sky, p. 170.

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July, 2007, Robert Hirschfield, "Author Ibtisam Barakat Unites English Language, Palestinian Memory," p. 62.


Ibtisam Barakat Home Page, (November 28, 2007).

National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors Blog, (May 14, 2007), interview with Barakat.

Wisconsin International Outreach Consortium Web site, (November 28, 2007), "Ibtisam Barakat."