Acclaimed Palestinian-Jordanian author Laila al-Atrash, also a TV presenter and reading advocate, died on Sunday, October 17 at 73, according to multiple media reports:
Al-Atrash was born in Beit Sahour, east of Bethlehem, in 1948.
She studied Arabic and French literatures, as well as the law, and started her media career as a journalist, then as producer and presenter of radio and TV programs. She began publishing literary works in 1988, and her second novel A Woman of Five Seasons, was published in Nura Halwani and Christopher Tingley’s co-translation in 2001.
She continued to publish prolifically and won a number of literary prizes, including the Best Jordanian Novel Award (for her The Desires of That Autumn, 2010) and State Appreciation Prize for Literature in Palestine 2017. Her novel Hymns of Temptation, her ninth, was on the longlist of the 2016 International Prize for Arabic Fiction. An excerpt of that novel, in Nancy Roberts’ translation, is available in Banipal.
Al-Atrash also promoted reading and writing, helping to found the Library of the Family and Reading for All projects, and serving as president of PEN Jordan.
She has been described as a feminist writer, as her books often focus on characters in search of personal liberation. But in a 2018 interview with The National, she said, “I am a ‘feminist writer’ but in my own way – it’s a social feminism. From the beginning, women were very important in my writing, but I don’t divide women from men. Men need liberating more than women. In the Arab world, we need it because our men, unfortunately, are not liberated enough.”
She added, in the interview: “I can’t say ‘Arab women’s writing’ because we write on the same subjects that men are writing about. So I hate saying ‘women’s writing’ because we do it due to our circumstances. In the Arab world we are suffering from the same problems, men and women. So you will find that we are writing about the same things because our problem is a societal problem.”
Although she was also a 2008 resident at the Iowa International Writers Program, no other novels by al-Atrash were translated to English.
Novelist Haji Jaber remembered al-Atrash as a “gentle soul.”