International Women’s Day: Great Arab Women and Their Writing, in Sixes

This is the International Women’s Day issue. So, I know, it should be 8s, since this is the 8th. Maybe next year:

By Mai Refky.
By Egyptian artist Mai Refky.


Iman Mersal’s “Oranges,” trans. Khaled Mattawa

Maram al-Massri’s “Women Like Me,” trans. Khaled Mattawa

Nujoom al-Ghanem “She Who Resembles Herself,” trans. Khaled al-Masri

Hanan al-Shaykh’s “Beirut 1934,” trans. Roger Allen

Nazik al-Mala’ika “Love Song for Words,” trans. Rebecca Carol Johnson

Adania Shibli’s “Out of Time,” trans. the author

Six profiles of, INTERVIEWS WITH Arab women writers:

Egyptian novelist Salwa Bakr: “Bakr suggested that the lack of political support explains the surge of women seeking to express these contradictions through literature, especially in recent decades.”

Palestinian novelist Sahar Khalifeh“During all those years in which I played the role of a frustrated housewife, I used to read that letter, look around and wonder, ‘Is this what I expected from life? To cook and wash dishes and wait for a husband who believes that I am here to make up for his mistakes?'”

Hanan al-Shaykh
Hanan al-Shaykh

Lebanese novelist Hanan al-Shaykh: ” I remember a professor at one of the American universities and she told me, ‘Oh, Ms. al-Shaykh, I love your work. But I don’t dare to teach it because I don’t want people to think that this is how the Arabs are.'”

Lebanese novelist Hoda Barakat“I’m never interested about heroes, about men who make history and the characters who believe in something. I don’t have an answer to anything, so when we were on our tour I let the other writers answer the big questions.”

Iraqi novelist Hadiya Hussein”Indeed, I feel closer to my country when I’m away. It is like a work of art: It gets clearer the more we step away from it.”

Algerian writer/filmmaker Assia Djebar: “… yes, sometimes fear grips me that these fragile moments of life will fade away. It seems that I write against erasure.”

Six Arab Women Writers (Who Are Interesting) on Twitter

@nellyali is a blogger, activist, and doctoral student who writes & tweets powerfully about the lives of Cairo’s street children. For instance, here. And here.

@Sarahcarr is the ruler of the Egyptian English-language twitterverse, if only because the rest of us are scared of her. She blogs, usually hilariously, at

@randajarrar  is a witty, fun Palestinian-American novelist (A Map of Home) and also writes short pieces in various places, many of which you can find on her website,

@NouraNoman  is an Emirati writer, author of one of Arabic’s first YA sci fi novels, and also blogs at She tweets about the Arabic language, science fiction, the practice of writing.

@SophiaAlMaria  is a Qatari writer, author of The Girl Who Fell to Earth, and tweets about various things, including, “Need a good, amusing name for a Salafi character…quick…” More at

@suzeeinthecity is a photographer/blogger who tweets about graffiti, among other things. She blogs here, and has a recent one about “women in graffiti,” but I haven’t taken a hair off any of her images, as it threatens those who do with hurt.

SIX Arab Women WRITErs Mentioned for Nobel Prize for Literature:

Painting by Etel Adnan
Painting by Etel Adnan

Etel Adnan, (1925 – ). Adnan, a Lebanese author who continues to be a vibrant force in the literary scene, has written a number of pioneering works. You can certainly see her impact in the recently released Homage to Etel Adnan.

Nawal al-Saadawi, (1931 –  ). Al-Saadawi, an Egyptian activist, doctor, and novelist, is a bit improbable as a Nobel Prize for Lit winner, although she is certainly an indomitable political force. Her memoirs are perhaps most interesting (more interesting than her fiction); Memoirs from a Women’s Prison in particular.

Assia Djebar, (1936 – ). Djebar, an Algerian author and filmmaker who writes in French, has been a regular on the Nobel list since her Neustadt award. Works in translation include her Women of Algiers in Their Apartment and Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade. 

Hanan al-Shaykh, (1945 – ). Lebanese-British al-Shaykh is author of the brilliant Story of Zahra, Women of Sand and Myrrh, among others; most of her works are available in English, several translated by Catherine Cobham.

Radwa Ashour, (1946 – ). A wide-ranging Egyptian novelist In translation you can find her meta-fictional Specters, as well as Granada and Siraj, and I understand that her celebrated Farag is forthcoming from BQFP.

Huda Barakat, (1952 – ) Also Lebanese, her Tiller of Waters and Stones of Laughter are beautifully layered and textured, like the fabrics in Tiller, with a wonderful exploration of the relationship between humans and the objects of daily life.

Videos: Six Arab Women on Why They Write

Interviewed by Boston librarian Diane D’Almeida.

Six ONLINE Resources: Finding & REAding More Arab Women Writers


Boston University’s page of Arab Women Writers

imagesBelletrista: women-authored literature from around the world

Banipal’s contributors page

RAWI – Radius of Arab American Writers

Arab World Writers: Authors’ Pages

AND…Six Questions

Should There Be Quotas for Women in Saudi Book Clubs?

Too Much Sex in Saudi Women’s Lit?

Is Arabic Literature (in Translation) Overwhelmingly Male?

Why Would Kate Chopin Want to Participate in the IPAF ‘Nadwa’?

Should There Be an ‘Orange Prize’ for Arab Women Writers?

Who Has the Power? (Reading Arab Women in English)

Also, commentary on IWD:

Ahram Online: This year we celebrate International Women’s Day: “In celebrating this day for women, we must prepare for the battles ahead – not just the ones that are being fought. We must also remember that the politics of gender are at the heart of the struggle for human rights, dignity and decent livelihoods.”