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More Arab Women Writers to Read

I wrote the first list of Arab women writers (and one Turkish woman writer) with the idea in mind that when we strive to diversify our reading and therefore our worldview, we might be tempted to start with those who are getting the most media exposure (men), and are the most accessible, instead of digging deeper. If you decide 2016 is the year you’re reading only women, think beyond white women, beyond Jewish women, if for you, those are the lowest hanging fruit, the books you’re naturally attracted. It’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard. There is a voice in your head right now going, “So…I’m supposed to read a book by an Arab women just because she’s an Arab woman?” And I’m telling you the answer is yes. Good books by women who aren’t white or Jewish exist. Find those writers and read one. And then read another one. Do the work of shirking your myopia. Here are five more Arab women writers to check out in 2016.

Radwa Ashour: Egyptian born Ashour (1946-2014) won the 1994 Cairo International Book Fair Prize and the 2007 Constantine Cavafy Prize for Literature. Her novels include “Specters”, “Granada”, “The Woman from Tantoura: A Palestinian Novel”, “Blue Lorries” and others, as well as 2 collections of short stories, and numerous books of criticism. She edited “Arab Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide, 1873-1999”. Her writing explores resistance, feminism, marginalized voices, and memory.

Adania Shibli: Shibli, born in 1974, is the Palestinian author of the novella, “Touch” , the story of a young girl in the West Bank. Told in 33 vignettes, it breaks with traditional Western literary conventions. “Touch,” as well as “We Are All Equally Far From Love” won her the Young Writer’s Award–Palestine by the A.M. Qattan Foundation. Shibli, also playwright and essayist, has also published work in [The Washington Post]( l), “Drunken Boat”, and the “Kenyon Review”. Ahdaf Soueif, an Egyptian novelist featured in the first installment of this list, called Shibli “the current most-talked-about young writer on the West Bank.”

Sahar Khalifeh: Considered one of the most prominent Palestinian writers, activist and feminist Khalifeh is the founder of the Women’s Affairs Center in Nablus. After being married at age eighteen, she left her husband thirteen years later and began writing. Her novels have been translated into several languages, including Hebrew. Her best known novel, Wild Thorns,was published in 1976. She won the 2006 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for her novel “The Image, the Icon, and the Covenant” .

Rajaa Al-Sanea: Al-Sanea’s novel, “Girls of Ri,” described as “Sex in the City meet Saudi Arabia,” is written in the form of emails between four young Saudi women. The book created a firestorm when published, because of its attention to sexuality, and it was banned in Saudi Arabia, although copies were distributed across the Middle East via the black-market. The book is currently available in major bookstores in Saudi Arabia, and was long listed for the 2009 Dublin Literary Award. An endodontist, Al-Sanea lives in Riyadh.

Hanan al-Shayk: The Lebanese author of “The Story of Zahra”, about a young woman dealing with violence in Beirut, writes on themes of feminism, war, sexuality, patriarchy, and obedience, rendering her a deeply controversial figure in conservative circles in the Arab world. You can listen to an NPR interview with her on her modern retelling of “One Thousand and One Nights” here .


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