From the Arab world’s first feminist, to the man who defined Palestinian resistance, MILLE brings you the Arab writers who continue to inspire to this day and that you should definitely add to your read list.
As one of the Arab world’s earliest feminists, it’s surprising May Ziadeh is a name rarely discussed, despite the significant role she played in transforming Arabic literature in the early 1900s. Born to Lebanese-Palestinian parents, Ziadeh grew to make her mark in the Egyptian scene, where her family had migrated. There, Ziadeh made a name for herself as a journalist, and was equally known for her poetry and fiction works. But the feminist’s biggest impact were the weekly literary salons she held, where Egypt’s most prolific (and mostly male) writers met.
If you’re familiar with Khalil Gibran, Mikhail Na’ima is a name you probably recognise. The Lebanese writer is particularly known for his mystical works that varied from poetry to short stories. Naimy wrote a total of 99 books in his life time, with the Book of Mirdad being his best-known piece of work. But above all, Na’ima is known for the lasting mark he and Gibran left through their New York based literary movement that revolutionised Arabic poetry.
Algeria is home to a host of distinguished writers, but Ahlam Mosteghanemi stands amongst its brightest—having been the first Algerian woman to publish a book in Arabic. Mosteghanemi, who was born in Tunisia after her family was exiled during the Algerian Liberation War, returned to her native country to become among the first generation of Algerians to undertake the Arabic language following the nation’s independence. She went on to become known for her feminist positions, reaching literary success with her first novel, entitled, Zakirat el Jassad – then going on to write two sequels—solidifying her as one of North Africa’s most prolific writers.
When it comes to Ghassan Kanafani, writing and politics came hand in hand. The Palestinian writer spent his twenties as a journalist for various publications in the Arab world, with his political affiliations being front and centre. And his political views continued to shape his work, including his fiction novels, through which he pioneered what is known today as Palestinian Resistance Literature. His novel, entitled Men in the Sun, is still revered today as one of the most reputable Arabic works of fiction.