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Same as it ever was: Orientalism 40 years later


In addition to reading the classics like Edward Said and Jack Shaheen, I recommend exploring contemporary Arab and Arab American writers and scholars. There is no shortage of them, of us. For one place to start, check out the list of Arab American Book Award winners. In terms of scholarship, Evelyn Alsultany’s Arabs and Muslims in the Media: Race and Representation After 9/11 (2012) updates Said to explore how contemporary media often deploy a “good Arab” to create the illusion of complex representation, what she calls a “simplified complex representation.” In terms of literature, Khaled Mattawa’s lyrical poems and translations have brought into English so much beauty and wisdom. Likewise the work of the indefatigable Marilyn Hacker, in her poems and translations. Marcia Lynx Qualey’s blog called Arabic Literature in English provides a constant reading list. Interlink Books deserves special mention, and there are at least three literary magazines devoted to Arab literature: MiznaBanipal, and Sukoon. For me, the existence of RAWI (the Radius of Arab American Writers) has made me feel a little more at home in the world, and at home in myself. RAWI is home to many prominent Arab American writers, including a core group with whom I regularly group-text: Hayan Charara, Marwa Helal, Randa Jarrar, Fady Joudah, Farid Matuk, Deema Shehabi.

In poetry, Hayan Charara is the master of dread, whose poems tip the earth beneath us, sliding into the unspeakable; on text, he shares goofy photos of his kids, usually dressed up in hilarious outfits. In poetry, Marwa Helal invented a new kind of poem, the Arabic, which reads right to left; on text, she’s the one who hearts us most, and keeps us hip to slang and people like DJ Khaled, whose embrace of the good life is equal parts hip hop and Arab. In her essays, stories, and Tweets, Jarrar’s drawn to the funny and provocative; one troll called her novel “a handbook on masturbation.” In group-text, she alternates between hilarity and sweetness. Fady Joudah’s just another award-winning poet and translator, whose surprising response to the Levinson affair and other grotesqueries, “Say It: I’m Arab and Beautiful,” ought to be read by everyone, vibrating as it is with the birth-pangs of something new. Farid Matuk’s baby girl pops up in group-text, as she does in his new and highly experimental poems, when he’s not going high-theory in voluminous and impeccable texts. Deema Shehabi’s two boys, and her kindness, radiating always, rhymes with her jasmine-scented and fierce poems. What does it mean to know her grandfather was once the mayor of Gaza?

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Ibrahim Nasrallah challenges followers of Arab literature to reconnect with their emotions

Nasrallah’s latest work Al Hob Shareer (Love is the Enemy) focuses solely on matters of the heart.

“No one talks about love anymore,” says Ibrahim Nasrallah with a sigh. “It is as if we eradicated those feelings out of all our writing because we deem it no longer important. It is a fallacy, of course, because love is everything.”

The Palestinian poet and novelist is commenting on the state of modern Arabic literature, which he describes as more concerned with the timely than the timeless.

“In a way, the Arab writer and the Arab reader have become the same,” he says.

“A lot of what is being written focuses on current issues, whether social or political. There is a feeling that if there is any deviation from that path and reading about other topics then they are not taking their time seriously. A sense of guilt creeps and this is totally wrong.”

Nasrallah has challenged that view with his latest work, Al Hob Shareer (Love is the Enemy) that focuses solely on matters of the heart.

With more than 80 poems and one libretto, the 63-year explores all facets of love from the emotional, primal, how it revitalises and how it can control.

Speaking before his session tonight at the Sharjah International Book Fair on the creative process plus a book signing on Saturday, Nasrallah says the book was born out of a challenge to himself.

“It began when I first started observing the dearth of current literature surrounding love. There is not a modern poetry collection, as far as I can see, that dealt with this matter exclusively,” he says.

“The last person to have done that was the great and classic writer Nizzar Qabani, and since that there has been no major body of work. So, I wanted to test myself and see if I can do it and then test the reader once it was published.”

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Emirates Lit Fest 2017: Emirati author Ahmed Al Shoaibi inspires the next generation

By Hala Khalaf

Ahmed Al Shoaibi’s success as an author was not shared by all those close to him.

The Emirati, whose work is published in English, recalls that his 9-year-old niece criticised him for not writing a story featuring a female protagonist.

“The initial success of the Hamad stories was so heartwarming,” says Al Shoaibi, whose six instalments of his The Tales of Hamad children’s books last year follow an Emirati boy sharing his nation’s cultures and traditions.

“[But] my niece was right: the UAE is a land where women are respected and hold the highest positions, whether a minister or a mother, or both. Creating a leading, adventurous female character made sense.”

As a result, he wrote four more books about Hamad’s sister, Ayesha.

As an engineer and associate professor of chemical engineering and the dean of academic affairs at the Petroleum Institute (PI) in Abu Dhabi, Al Shoaibi didn’t envisage a side-career as an author.

The inspiration came from one of the UAE’s saddest experiences as a nation. “When we lost 45 martyrs in October 2015 in Yemen, it came as a shock to us as Emiratis,” says Al Shoaibi. Read more
Source: The National

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Emirati Ipaf nominee Sultan Al Ameemi talks about his love of words

By Rym Ghazal

‘In a small room in an unknown place, there is someone peeping through a keyhole, watching furtively the other person in an adjacent room…”

This is how the Arabic language novel Ghurfa Waheda La Takfi (One Room is Not Enough) begins, by the Emirati writer and researcher Sultan Al Ameemi. It has been nominated for the 10th edition of the prestigious International Prize for Arabic Fiction (Ipaf), with 15 competing novels from nine other countries.

Ghurfa Waheda La Takfi is an unusual novel, full of mystery, suspense and a philosophical narrative. It is also written in simple, engaging Arabic, peppered with a creative play on words – reflective of the author’s poetic background.

His novel provokes an engaged curiosity from the outset: who is the person trapped in a room watching someone else; a doppelgänger in yet another room. And who is really telling the story with its multiple narrators?

Al Ameemi, 43, is a poet and writer, as well as a researcher of local dialects, and the director of the Poetry Academy in Abu Dhabi. He has written 20 books, mostly on UAE poetry and poets, as well as three collections of short stories and a novel P.O. Box 1003 (2014). Al Ameemi is also a judge on the Abu Dhabi TV and Million’s Poet Channel Million’s Poet show.

Tell us about Ghurfa Waheda La Takfi (One Room is Not Enough), the first Emirati novel longlisted for the 10th edition of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction? Why did you write it?

I have been thinking about this concept of “talasus”, peeking or peeping into other people’s lives, for a long time. Our life revolves around talking about others, watching others and checking out people’s lives, through social media and gossip. We are curious and check people’s accounts to see what they have been up to and what did we miss out on. It is almost like an obsession, and so I started writing the book with this premise. Read more
Source: The National

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Bardel Entertainment brings Gibran’s The Prophet to life

Classic work of Arab literature getting big screen treatment thanks to Vancouver animation studio: CBC News

A Vancouver animation studio is bringing one of the best-known works of modern Arab literature to life in a new film showing at the Vancity Theatre.

The Prophet was written by Khalil Gibran in 1923. It’s a book of prose about life and the human condition and has been translated into 40 languages and sold more than nine million copies.

“It’s fantastic, we’re all really excited about it,” said Chris Browne, studio computer graphics supervisor for Bardel Entertainment, the company behind the film. Continue reading

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New book aims to bring the history of Arab literature to the fore

Ask someone about the history of French literature and they might recite a couple of Voltaire quotes before extolling the virtues of Victor Hugo and challenging the ideas of Camus.

Ask about German literature and they will perhaps tell you about the Brothers Grimm before mourning the late, great Günter Grass.

Ask about Arabic literature, however, and, well, they’ve probably heard of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights and … that’s often as far as their experience goes.

It can feel, to those in and from the West, that Arabic literature and literary tradition is a something we would never have the time to catch up with. From romantic poets, religious texts and revolutionary philosophers, there’s simply too much reading to get through – we could never get to a point where we might understand the references and canon well enough to enjoy the modern output. Continue reading

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Translation, Adaption And The Meaning Of Modern Arab Lit

Amid shifting copyright and publishing norms, adaptation and translation of existing works is as contentious an issue today as ever in the literary world. The questions are particularly relevant for the Arabic novel, both for its recent and not-so-recent history.

Many have accused Ahmad Mourad of reproducing characters from Naguib Mahfouz in his novel 1919 (2014), and borrowing from Peter Burger’s New Zealand film The Tattoist (2007) in writing Al-Fil al-Azraq (The Blue Elephant, 2012). There has also been much discussion about the influence of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club (1996) on Ahmed Alaidy’s An takun Abbas al-Abd (Being Abbas al-Abd, 2003).

Going back to the late 19th and early 20th century Arab renaissance, critics questioned whether the Arabic novel itself merely mimicked a European genre.

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Why Israel isn’t keen on Arabic literature

The Jerusalem International Writers Fest was held mid-May, just two weeks before the Palestine Festival of Literature was staged all across historic Palestine. At the Jerusalem festival, there was no apparent recognition of Arabic literature, despite the city’s large (~34%) Arab population. How can that be? asks blogger “Arablit”: Your Middle East

At the opening ceremony of the Jerusalem International Writers Festival, author Dror Mishani decried this lack:

More and more, Hebrew literature is being created from itself, within itself, contrary to the way that it has been created over the centuries – with too little dialogue with foreign literatures – and even turning its back to languages and literatures around and inside it. Continue reading

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Poets and writers to discuss Arabic Literature at Teacher Conference at DePaul University

Poetry, song, film and plays will be among the cultural performances at a teacher conference on Arabic literature and education hosted by the Chicago Arabic Teachers’ Council on May 31 at DePaul University. The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Schmitt Academic Center, 2320 N. Kenmore Ave., on DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus.

The conference will include workshops and panels led by expert guests. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. followed by a presentation about the standards and practice of teaching literature in the Arabic classroom by conference chair Nesreen Akhtarkhavari.

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The Singapore Writers Festival 2012 comes to a successful conclusion

The 15th edition of the Singapore Writers Festival came to a successful conclusion on Sunday (Nov 11) after the closing debate in the festival pavilion.

The raucous debate’s motion was ‘Sinking roots here is little more than shopping and eating.’ The debate’s participants included aunty killer Adrian Tan,  Gwee Li Sui, Lye Kah Cheong, the ‘Return to a SexyIsland’ writer Neil Humphreys, Ovidia Yu and Zizi Azah. The views in the discussion ranged from the flippant to the intellectual and the speakers dissected the Singapore identity with complete chutzpah. Nothing was spared: Singlish, cheap foreign workers, low birth rate, the Singaporean obsession with makan and shopping, the Chinese expats’ love affair with condos, the Indian expats’ penchant for everything East Coast, the Ang Moh’s passion for the OrchardTowers, the variety of sex scandals in the city and the set ways of politics in Singapore. The audience lapped the humour up and blew the roof off of the festival tent with applause and mirth.

Closing the festival, Paul Tan, the festival director, characterized this year’s debate as tongue-in-cheek, ‘colourful’ and a bit ‘off colour’ too. In his remarks, he thanked all local and foreign writers who participated in the festival and applauded the audience for their support, despite the rain and bad weather, adding that he refused to apologise for the rains as it was an act of God.

In parting, he encouraged the attendees to support local writers. “If you don’t buy the books of our local writers, who will?” said Tan. He said that he looked forward to audience support next year and promised that the future festivals will be a mix of order and chaos just like this year’s.

Following the debate, the participating writers of the festival had a two-hour long closing party where they interacted with each other and their fans. Kinokuniya bookstore offered a special 20 percent discount for all the books on display on the last day.

A successful festival

Over the years, the Singapore festival has been growing in size and prestige. This year more than 150 local writers and 50 international writers participated in the event. Some of the top literary draws this year were American author Michael Cunningham, Taiwanese author Huang Chun-ming, Booker Prize-shortlisted author Jeet Thayil and globetrotting travel writer and novelist Pico Iyer.

Some of the sessions this year were so well-attended that there was not even standing room for some disappointed attendees. Snaking queues of autograph hunters were seen for authors like Cunningham and Iyer.

The topics discussed in the festival were not just literary. The heat of political debate marked the sessions of Catherine Lim, Marina Mahathir and Cherian George. Veteran journalist P N Balji and George talked about his (George’s) new book on mainstream media in Singapore, Freedom from the Press: Journalism and State Power in Singapore and discussed how the mainstream media had become less relevant because of the arrival of the new media. However, the mainstream media still played an important role and the OB markers for Singapore media have become more flexible, the two panelists claimed.

The festival accommodated nearly 200 panels, and the issues that were discussed ranged from culture, sports, food, crime, media and politics to sex. There were also a few panels that highlighted the Arab literature and what was happening in that part of the world. Lilia Labidi of Tunisia, political cartoonist Khalil of Iran-US, and Hisham Bustani of Jordan talked at length about the Arab Spring and presented a very optimistic picture of the region’s future. Referring to the Arab movements for freedom, Khalil said that ‘the genie is out of the bottle’ and it is very difficult to set the clock back—the people in Arab have awakened.