Back in 2015, ArabLit asked 9 Arab women writers to name their favorite books by Arab women writers:
Palestinian writer Adania Shibli — author of the Best Translated Book Award-longlisted Touch (trans. Paula Haydar) and We Are All Equally Far from Love (trans. Paul Starkey) — chose three must-reads: Iman Mersal’s A Dark Alley Suitable for Learning to Dance and Walking As Long As Possible, as well as Samira Azzam’s The Clock and the Man, the latter clearly central to Shibli’s own writing.
While (the great) Mersal has one poetry collection available in English and more forthcoming, Azzam (1927-1967) does not have a full-length work available in English.
Born in Acre, according to a Jadaliyya profile, Azzam began working as a schoolteacher at the age of 16 and began publishing in the 1940s in the newspaper Palestine under the alias “Coastal Girl.” She was forced to flee in 1948 and, after that, moved between Baghdad and Beirut. As Joseph Farag writes in “Samira Azzam’s ‘Man and His Alarm Clock,’” Azzam “would emerge as one of the first and pre-eminent Palestinian literary voices in the wake of the Nakba of 1948.”
During her time in Baghdad, Azzam wrote in the Iraqi newspaper Al-Shaab, where Badr el-Shakir el-Sayyab was one of the editors. Six collections of her short stories have been published in Arabic, the first in 1954 and the last two posthumously, in 1971 and 2000. She also translated work by Pearl Buck, Alice Hazelton, Bernard Shaw, John Steinbeck, and others.
In “Samira Azzam (1926-1967): Memory of the Lost Land,” Nejmeh Khalil-Habib argues that “two distinct disciplines of interpretation of her wok have appeared. The first sees Azzam as a purely Palestinian revolutionary writer; her writing in its entirety revolved around, was informed and inspired by the people around her and their common as well as their individual tragedies. The others saw that Azzam was incapable of feeling and expressing the suffering of Palestinian refugees because she had found herself a social status that cast her above the common refugee. She was an editor and a broadcaster in The Middle East radio station, she lived (or was perceived to live) an easy life and her concerns were seen as womanish.”
Yet, Khalil-Habib writes, “despite being omitted form many literary studies Azzam is still considered a pioneer in the development of the Arabic short story. Suheil Idris, a prominent writer and a literary critic, commented on Azzam’s Tiny Matters: ‘in this collection Azzam shows great talent, her writing can create an inspiring sociological atmosphere, she has the potential of becoming a great writer, her style of writing is vital, bright, solid, musical and temperamental.'”
Azzam is perhaps most well-known collection is The Clock and the Man, in which “Man and His Alarm Clock“ was published, here translated by Nora Parr, Michael Beard, and Wen-Chin Ouyang.
You can also read Azzam’s “Bread of Sacrifice“ online, published in the anthology Modern Palestinian Literature, ed. Salma Khadra Jayyusi, translated by Kathie Piselli and Dick Davies.