Munn—May Mansoor Munn, 83, on August 18, 2018, in Houston, Tex., after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease. May was born on December 22, 1934, in Jerusalem, Palestine, to Ellen Audi and Jiries Mansur, and grew up in Jerusalem’s Katamon quarter. Soon after the bombing of the Semiramis Hotel in 1948, the family moved to Ramallah, and she attended Girls’ School of Ramallah Friends School and joined Ramallah Meeting.
At age 15, she came to America to attend William Penn College, and subsequently earned degrees in English and theology from Earlham College. Her father wrote her letters with lavish descriptions of her mother’s cooking. “It was the grape leaves and squash that reminded me of who I was,” she said later. She realized that by writing she could recreate what she didn’t want to lose.
After college, she returned to Palestine and taught at Ramallah Friends School. In 1955, she married Isa Mansoor and moved to the United States, first living in Georgia and then in Houston, Tex., where she joined Live Oak Meeting. After Isa’s passing, she earned a teaching certificate in history at the University of Houston and taught at Memorial Senior High School for ten years. While there, she co-founded the Houston-area Model United Nations, an organization teaching students about the U.S. government and global politics.
When Albert Munn began attending Live Oak Meeting in Houston, he noticed the young widow with two teenage children right away. In 1973, they married under the care of the meeting at the Rothko Chapel in Houston and “May and Albert” became a beloved phrase in the Live Oak Meeting lexicon. May was a mentor to many Friends, especially to untold numbers of young women. She was a devoted attender at Bayou Quarterly Meeting and South Central Yearly Meeting, where she was well known for singing songs from Rise Up Singing.
Writing was her passion. She said, “Sometimes I just have to write. Very often, the words do not just flow; I have to find the beginning. Then, I get in touch with my inner self. That’s when I discover who I am.” Ever the teacher, she helped establish a writers group, chiefly made up of Live Oak Friends, that encouraged others to write down their thoughts and experiences. She carried an underlying grief all her life for the pain and injustice from the uprooting of so many fellow Palestinians, making home a central theme in her stories. Fear that the reality of Palestine is being erased was an abiding influence in her writing.
Over the years, she published many essays and short stories about Palestine and life in the United States in regional and national newspapers and magazines. In 2013 she published Ladies of the Dance, a historical novel about the events leading up to the 1967 Six-Day War, and in 2017 Where Do Dreams and Dreaming Go?, a compilation of earlier essays and short stories.
In tribute to her father, who was a physician, May donated her body to Texas Medical Center to further the study of Parkinson’s disease. Her youngest sister, Sina Mansur, preceded her in death. She leaves behind her husband, Albert Munn; her children, Ellen Collier (Gary) and Jeff Mansoor (Christy Fiehn-Mansoor); three sisters, Noel Mansur, Limy Mansur, and Emily Shihadeh; a brother-in-law, Donn Hutchison; and two cousins, Reima Bishara and Elias Audi.