5 Libyan Women Writers Re-shaping the Literary Landscape

At the 2011 Luminato Festival, well-known Libyan-American poet Khaled Mattawa gave a shout-out to fellow Libyan poet Fatima Mahmoud, whose work he translated in Poems for the Milllennium, Volume Four, ed. Pierre Joris and Habib Tengour:

According to a 2011 report from the event, Mattawa said:

Libyan poet Fatima Mahmoud wrote such powerful things in the 70’s, at the height of Gaddafi’s suppression of the people. Everything she wrote still rings true today. I’m really interested in poetry creating a consciousness; poets I’ve translated who have stood the test of time.

1. Fatima Mahmoud (? – )

According to Poems for the Millennium, Mahmoud was born in Tripoli in the “mid 20th century” and worked as a journalist in Libya 1976-87. After that, she moved to Cyprus where she founded and edited Modern Sheharazade magazine. She returned to Libya and soon had a confrontation with the regime. After that, she was forced to seek political asylum in Germany, where she now lives.

From Mahmoud’s “What Was Not Conceivable,” trans. Mattawa:

2. Razan Naim al-Maghrabi (? – )

Al-Maghrabi is a Libyan novelist and short-story writer whose Women of the Wind made the International Prize for Arabic Fiction’s women-impoverished longlist in 2011.

She has written in Libyan newspapers since 1991 and has worked as co-ordinator for the Horizons philosophical and cultural magazine.

In 2015, Almoghrabi was also recognized with an Oxfam Novib/PEN Award for her efforts at freedom for writers and journalists in Libya.

Her work appears in translation in Banipal 40: Libyan Fiction.

3. Laila Neihoum (1961 – )

Neihoum is a journalist, poet, editor, and translator, and was the first Libyan author to join the International Writers Program at the prestigious University of Iowa Writing Program. She edits and contributes to a number of Libyan journals and newspapers.

Neihoum has published both short stories and poems, and her work can be found at the IWP website; in Poems for the Millennium, where it was co-translated by Neihoum and Mohamed Hassan; and in Words Without Borders, trans. Michael Beard and Adnan Haydar.

From Words Without Borders:

O My Libya
Butterflies of Meaning
Melting Sun

4. Maryam Salama (1965 – )

Salama, an author and translator, was also a participant in the 2012 Tripoli International Poetry Festival, organized by fellow Libyan poets Ashur Etwebi and Khaled Mattawa.

A poet, Salama also has a moving short story, “Door to Door,” in Translating Libya: Chasing the Libyan Short Story, from Mizda to Benghazi, ed. and trans. Ethan Chorin. In the story, a nurse in the town of Ghadames falls in love with a Ukrainian doctor. Photo from Mosaic Rooms:

5. Najwa Bin Shatwan (1970 – )

Bin Shatwan, whose work has appeared here on ArabLit in translation, is widely acclaimed and well known, particularly since her shortlisting for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2017. A Libyan academic and novelist, Bin Shatwan is the author of three novels: The Horses’ Hair (2007), Orange Content (2008), and Slave Pens (2016), as well as three short-story collections and a play.

Before her IPAF shortlisting, Bin Shatwan was chosen as one of the 39 best Arab authors under the age of 40 by the Beirut39 project, in 2009, and her story The Pool and the Piano was included, in translation, in the Beirut39 anthology.

Read: An excerpt from Slave Pens.

Also read: His Excellency and the Eminence of the Void,” trans. Suneela Mubayi

For more recommended Libyan women writers: A thread with suggestions from Libyan writers.