A Crowdsourced Thread on Palestinian Literature

On the day after Christmas, writer and scholar Clint Smith asked:

In the coming weeks, ArabLit will have a series on teaching with Arabic literature in translation, including Palestinian literature. But for now, a few annotated suggestions from the thread.

As you would hope, at least a dozen commenters mentioned Ghassan Kanafani, particularly his seminal Returning to Haifa and Men in the SunSeveral also mentioned Suad Amiry’s sharp, witty books, including Nothing to Lose But Your LifeHer earlier book, Sharon and My Mother-in-law was the “One Book, Many Cities” read of 2016, and you can read a short excerpt online.


Scholar Nora Parr, who has a particular interest in Palestinian literature, was the first to suggest Adania Shibli’s excellent Touchtranslated by Paula Haydar. Shibli’s We Are All Equally Far from Lovetranslated by Paul Starkey, is also in English translation, and Shibli also has a new novel forthcoming in Arabic. Meanwhile, you can read Shibli’s “On East-West Dialogue” on The Kenyon Review, trans. Suneela Mubayi.

Samira al-Azzam’s acclaimed short stories have, unfortunately, not been published in an English collection.

Azzam’s most well-known collection is The Clock and the Man, in which “Man and His Alarm Clock“ was published, which has been 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 Literatureed. the aforementioned Salma Khadra Jayyusi, translated by Kathie Piselli and Dick Davies.

You can also read ArabLit editor M. Lynx Qualey’s review of Gaza Weddings, and a discussion of Nasrallah’s “Palestinian Comedy” project in The National.

Of course Mahmoud Darwish was mentioned many times, although no one recommended a particular work:

The latest, posthumous, collection of Darwish’s to be published is I Don’t Want This Poem to End: Early and Late Poems (2017), translated by Mohammad Shaheen, with an introduction by Elias Khoury. But Darwish works to start on might include:

“Silence for the Sake of Gaza,” from Journal of an Ordinary Grief, trans. Ibrahim Muhawi. You can also download another excerpt from the book from the English publisher, Archipelago.

A River Dies of Thirst: Journals, trans. Catherine Cobham: Download an excerpt from the publisher.

In the Presence of Absence, trans. Sinan Antoon.

Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone? trans. Jeffrey Sacks.

Another recommendation was the Words Without Borders section, from May 2015, on new Palestinian writing, selected and edited by poet Nathalie Handal. It includes work by Palestinian-Icelandic author Mazen Maarouf, whose award-winning debut collection of short stories, Jokes for the Gunmen, is forthcoming in Jonathan Wright’s translation this year. The WWB section also has work by prominent Palestinian poet Najwan Darwish, whose Nothing More to Lose, trans. Kareem James Abu-Zeid, was longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award.

Poet Omar Sakr also mentioned Najwan Darwish’s collection, trans. Abu-Zeid:

There were recommendations to read Edward Said’s theory, as well as his award-winning memoir Out of Place.


Raja Shehadeh got several mentions, particularly for his Orwell-winning Palestinian Walks. Several of the prolific Shehaden’s other books were discussed in the third episode of Bulaq, along with other works of Palestinian literature.

The great Emile Habibi (1922-1996) was not forgotten. Said the Pessoptimist is his best-known work, but you can listen to excerpts of Habibi’s Saraya, The Ogre’s Daughter: A Palestinian Fairy Tale, trans. Peter Theroux, read by Marcela Sulak.

Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury’s classic Gate of the Sun, translated by Humphrey Davies, also gets a mention.

Mourid Barghouti’s two memoirs — the Naguib Mahfouz Medal-winning I Saw Ramallah, as well as his later I Was Born Here, I Was Born There — were both recommended:

Of Palestinian authors who write in Hebrew, Anton Shammas’s classic Arabesques, trans. Vivian Eden got a recommendation, as was the bitingly funny Sayed Kashua. His Native: Dispatches from Israeli-Palestinian Life (2016), trans. Ralph Mandel is surely worth a read. You can read some of Kashua’s columns on Haaretz.

There were shoutouts for a number of Palestinian-American writers, including author-translator Fady Joudah, fiction stylists Randa Jarrar and Hala Alyan, author-activist Susan Abulhawa, and poet and spoken-word artist Suheir Hammad:


It took a while in the thread, but the great stylist and innovator Jabra Ibrahim Jabra (1919-1994) was mentioned, alongside the award-winning novelist Sahar Khalifeh, whose Of Noble Origins, trans. Aida Bamia, is a wonderful look at women’s lives pre-1948. You can read a short excerpt from Jabra’s In Search of Walid Masoud online.

Lebanese poet Zeina Hashem Beck recommended Anne Marie Jacir’s new film:

There was also one recommended theatre text: Dalia Taha’s “Fireworks,” translated by Clem Naylor and published by Bloomsbury. For those interested in Palestinian theatre, there’s also Inside/Outside: Six Plays from Palestine and the Diaspora, edited by Naomi Wallace & Ismail Khalidi.


Palestinian poet Lina Alsharif pointed to lesser-known authors, particularly those from Gaza. Other writings from Gaza include Atef Abu Saif’s The Drone Eats With Me and the collection of stories he edited, The Book of Gaza, which does get a mention in the thread. You can also read a piece by Abu Saif, “Over the Sound of the Drone,” published by English PEN.


Robin Moger — in his typical, long-winded style — recommends the brilliant Alaa Hlehel, who along with fellow Palestinian writers Shibli and Darwish was one of the “Beirut39,” a group of 39 promising Arab authors under 40.

Hlehel’s book project with Comma Press, translated by Alice Guthrie, is on hold. But in the meantime, you can read an excerpt from his Au Revoir Akka  trans. Guthrie.

You can also check the pieces in ArabLit’s “Palestine” section.