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Omar El Akkad

Award-winning journalist and author of the debut novel American War

  • About Omar El Akkad

    Omar El Akkad was born in Cairo, Egypt and grew up in Doha, Qatar before moving to Canada with his family. An award-winning journalist and author, El Akkad has traveled around the world to cover many of the most important news stories of the last decade. His reporting includes dispatches from the NATO-led war in Afghanistan, the military trials in Guantanamo Bay, the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt, and the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Missouri.

    El Akkad’s debut novel, American War, is a darkly prescient tale of a country and world torn apart by war, conflicts about fossil fuels, environmental catastrophes, and a devastating plague. The novel’s young heroine, Sarat Chestnut, is only six at the start of the Second American Civil War in 2074, but she endures a lifetime of turmoil and is profoundly shaped by the conflicts of her time. Sarat is eventually turned into a deadly instrument of war, and her fateful decisions have tremendous consequences not just for herself, but for her family, her country, and the generations that follow.

    In a review of the book, Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times wrote, “Powerful… As haunting a post apocalyptic universe as Cormac McCarthy [created] in The Road and as devastating a look at the fallout that national events have on an American family as Philip Roth did in The Plot Against America…”

    A gifted speaker, El Akkad draws on his breadth of experience as a journalist at home and abroad to give his audience rare insights into the most important topics of our time, from terrorism to populist movements to racial tensions in America, and talks about how global politics informed and inspired his debut novel.

    El Akkad is a recipient of Canada’s National Newspaper Award for investigative reporting and the Goff Penny Memorial Prize for Young Canadian Journalists, as well as three National Magazine Award honorable mentions. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

  • Speaking Topics

    The Endless War

    For more than 15 years, the war on terror has transformed the world we live in. But almost all the war’s carnage and consequences have impacted places that few Americans have ever seen first-hand. Drawing on his experiences covering the NATO-led invasion of Afghanistan and the detention camps of Guantanamo Bay, El Akkad presents an up-close look at some of the day-to-day details of the places that have come to define the post-9/11 age. This lecture includes a multimedia presentation, featuring photos from Afghanistan and Guantanamo.

    The Last Days of Spring

    In 2011, a wave of popular protests shook much of the Middle East, toppling a string of autocratic leaders and culminating in the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. But a half-decade later, almost nothing remains of the pro-democracy movement—many of its leaders jailed, silenced or in exile—and once again the Middle East’s most populous nation finds itself under the control of yet another military-backed strongman. Drawing on his experiences covering the protests in Egypt, and his personal family background there, El Akkad presents a look at how the once-powerful protest movement died, and whether it might ever rise up again.

    The Story of American War

    In this lecture, El Akkad talks about how he came to write his debut novel – the events that inspired it, the references buried throughout the text and the places he visited to research the book. This lecture covers the writing and editing process, the story of how the book came to be published, and the wildly different reactions it has prompted inside and outside the United States.

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  • Praise for Omar El Akkad


    We had a wonderful visit with Mr. El Akkad!  He was incredibly gracious with his time and energy for the 3 days that he was on our campus! His text, American War, was a perfect selection for our Common Book Experience this year.  He and the book lend themselves to open discourse across many different populations in any intellectual environment.  He drew out major themes from the text and was very open and honest about what experiences and social locations he used to construct this novel. He is a rare author who can engage anyone on many different topics.  For these reasons he was a complete success as a common book author!

    University of Alabama

    We truly could not have asked for a better experience. Omar was so engaging, kind, and open to our students – he stayed for almost an hour after his presentation in the evening to answer questions from students. The entire day was wonderful, and we couldn’t have asked for a better selection with a better author. Thank you for helping us make this happen!

    Flagler College

    Praise for American War

    Powerful . . . As haunting a postapocalyptic universe as Cormac McCarthy [created] in The Road, and as devastating a look as the fallout that national events have on an American family as Philip Roth did in The Plot Against America. . . . Deftly imagined . . . [El Akkad] writes with such propulsive verve.

    Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

    El Akkad has created a brilliantly well-crafted, profoundly shattering saga of one family’s suffering in a world of brutal power struggles, terrorism, ignorance, and vengeance. American War is a gripping, unsparing, and essential novel for dangerously contentious times.

    Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

    A dystopian vision . . . cannily imagined . . . But above all, El Akkad’s novel is an allegory about present-day military occupation, from drone strikes to suicide bombers to camps full of refugees.

    Kirkus Reviews

    Omar El Akkad has created an American future that is both terrifying and plausible. In a world seared and flooded by global warming, the U.S. has fractured again into North and South. The barbarism that ensues is all the more awful because we know the rivers and the cities. And we know these people: they are our neighbors; they are us. Through the eyes of a young girl El Akkad lets us see the soul-crushing toll of war. It was only in the stunned minutes after I’d finished the novel that I realized he had also taught us how to make a consummate terrorist.

    Peter Heller, author of The Dog Stars and Celine

    American War, a work of a singular, grand, brilliant imagination, is a warning shot across the bow of the United States. Omar El Akkad has created a novel that isn’t afraid to be a pleasurable yarn as it delves into the hidden currents of American culture and extrapolates from them to envision a deeply tragic potential future.

    David Means, author of Hystopia

    Omar El Akkad’s urgent debut transmutes our society’s current dysfunction into a terrifying yet eerily recognizable future, where contemporary global and local conflicts have wreaked havoc on American soil. The threads between today and that future are his masterfully shaped characters. Their resilience, savagery, and humanity serve both as a portrait of who we are but also what we might very well become.

    Elliot Ackerman, author of Dark at the Crossing
  • Books by Omar El Akkad

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  • Omar El Akkad travels from Portland, OR

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