INTRODUCING ‘Out of Time: The Collected Short Stories of Samira Azzam’

Today, we are launching our first community-supported translation: Ranya Abdelrahman’s translation of thirty-one selected stories by the great cult-classic Palestinian writer Samira Azzam.

Thanks to our supporters on Patreon and elsewhere for making this happen.

You can find the book on Amazon (US, UK, Germany, Canada, Japan, UAE, etc.) and Gumroad. On Gumroad, the book it as a 20% launch-week discount, set to end December 9. It is also coming to other platforms and bookshops, as well as launch events in the new year.

To mark the release, we’ll be celebrating Samira Azzam and her work all this week on ArabLit, starting with this brief introduction to Azzam and her work.



By M Lynx Qualey

In June of 1967, after watching the shape of her country suddenly change for the second time, with hundreds of thousands more Palestinians expelled from their homes, Samira Azzam destroyed the novel she had been working on. Its title must have seemed particularly tragic in the wake of ’67: Sinai Without Borders. Two months later, at the age of 39, Azzam went on a road trip with friends. They were outside of al-Ramtha, near the Syrian border, when she suffered a heart attack and died. 

We had Samira Azzam (1927–1967) for far too few years, and we never got to read what she would do with a novel. Still, she did leave us with five vivid short-story collections, as well as reviews, articles, translations, and countless hours of broadcast radio. Yet after her death, her work fell into a half-shadow, in which she was acknowledged as great, but not quite canonized. In a 2018 article on the Palestinian short story, the critic Faisal Darraj says it plainly: “Azzam has not yet received the accolades she deserves.”

There are conflicting theories as to why this happened, but perhaps it’s enough to say that Samira Azzam was a short-story writer who died young. 

Azzam must have been a passionate writer from a very young age. Raised in a middle-class Christian family in the seaside city of Acre, she began working as a schoolteacher at 16. It was only shortly into her tenure as a teacher when, in her late teens, she started contributing stories and reviews to the newspaper Filistin under the pen name “A Girl from the Coast.” 

Then, at the cusp of 21, everything changed. She, along with hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians, was forced to flee her home. Azzam ended up making a new life in Lebanon, and the life of the refugee is something to which her stories often return. But although a middle-class female narrator sometimes appears in her stories, Azzam’s interest was not in self-portraiture, but rather in looking around her, and in imagining the interior lives of a myriad of her fellow Palestinians, from sweaty new graduates to washerwomen to men who made their living reciting poetry at funerals. A topic she returned to again and again was how people dealt with a harsh and rapidly changing world. How did they keep themselves afloat and hold onto their grip on reality? How did their views on morality change, both in how they judged themselves and others? How did the institution of family change, and what about relationships?

Although Azzam was from a middle-class family and worked as a school director, radio broadcaster, author, and translator, she was certainly familiar with how a person’s world could be yanked out from beneath them. She brings this deeply felt sympathy to her characters, whose worlds are often transforming around them, sometimes slowly and sometimes all at once. 

Azzam’s work came to prominence in the 1950s, at a time when Palestinian fiction was still focused on the short story, which—since it could be published in broadsheets and read aloud on the radio—circulated far more widely than the novel. In the 1950s and early ’60s, Azzam was an acclaimed and beloved author. She was also an active participant in Beirut’s literary scene, which, in the decade before Lebanon’s civil war, was in one of its most fertile periods of experimentation.

Although Palestine was the star around which Samira Azzam revolved, only a few of her stories—seven—explicitly mention Palestine or Palestinians. Indeed, some found her work insufficiently political and even insufficiently Palestinian. In her essay on Samira Azzam, Adania Shibli writes about how Azzam’s story, “The Clock and the Man,” was included in her school curriculum because the censorship board found it harmless. And yet, as Shibli writes, the story “contributed to shaping my consciousness regarding Palestine as no other text I have ever read has done.” Nearly all of Azzam’s stories are about humans facing some sort of injustice, whether it is economic, social, familial, or the injustice of clocks and borders.

By the 1960s, literary attention was shifting to the novel. In February 1962, writing in al-Adab, Azzam reflected on these changes:

It seems to me that the Arabic short story is going through difficult times. The reason might not lie in its nature, as much as it does in factors outside of it, including its subjugation to the novel. Writers of the short story have become convinced that writing a novel is the measure of their creativity, especially since short story collections are not heralded by critics the same way novels are: The publication of a story collection goes by without anyone even trying to say a single word about it… And publishing houses hesitate to accept story collections, as if publishing them is a risky venture.

The novel has, if anything, grown into a larger presence, taking up more and more seats at the literary table. A woman writer who produced only short stories in the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s is easy to push to the very edges of the table, particularly in a period when we are obsessed with the new, the young and emerging, the published-last-week-and-no-earlier. And yet Samira Azzam’s work persists from the margins, much like her vividly imagined characters. And just as her characters are forced to reinvent themselves, the stories are here re-built and re-imagined in a new language, for new readers.

Thank you again to the community who funded this book.


  1. I am the one who wants to thank you for this enlightening paragraph about Ms. Samira Azzam. You have presented a panoramic view of the Arab litrary scene, so brief yet so telling. Fortunately or unfortunately, nothing has changed regarding the stand towards the short story versus the novel! Thank you once Ms. Qualey!

    1. Author

      Thank you, Hesham!

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