5 Radical Female Arab Poets You Need to Know

There’s more to Arab literature than Mahmoud Darwish and Khalil Gibran

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Often overlooked in modern-day culture, poetry has always prevailed in the Arab world. And women have spearheaded the movement since its dawn. So if you’re already a Mahmoud Derwish pro, the time has come for you to discover the under-represented and radical work of female Arab poets, famed for having pushed the boundaries of what is expected from a writer.

Here are five radical female Arab poets you need to know. 

May Ziadeh

May Ziadeh
Lebanse-Palestinian journalist, writer and poet May Ziadeh (who was also Khalil Gibran’s platonic lover) is probably the most famous and prolific female poet from the region. Born in 1886, she is celebrated for her feminist critiques of the patriarchy, which challenged social practices and cultural norms. If you’re looking for an introduction to feminist Arabic literature, start with her.

Nazik Al-Malaika

Nazik Al-Malaika
Born in 1923, Al-Malaika was a pioneer amongst the Iraqi poetry community, introducing a modern breaking away from the classical rules of rhyme schemes. Her first volume of free-verse poetry ‘Ashes and Shrapnel’ is recognised as the piece which popularised free verse. Daughter of a mother who was also a poet, she was raised as a feminist and her work sought to dismantle patriarchal social structures.

Al-Khansa

Al-Khansa
Born in 575, Al-Khansa was an amazingly talented poet, loved by the Prophet Mohammed. It is the death of her two brothers that influenced her powerful verses, infused with pain and grief. 

Maram Al Masri

Maram Al Masri
Award-winning Syrian poet Maram Al Masri left her hometown Latakia for Paris in 1982. Her writing powerfully explores topics such as exile, home and the loss of belonging.

Ahlam Mosteghanemi

Ahlam Mosteghanemi
Algerian poet Mosteghanemi is the best-selling female author in the Arab world. Counting almost 350k followers on Instagram at the age of 67, she is the only Arab female poet and novelist to have been published in English. We recommend reading her first (and prize-winning) novel “Memory of the Flesh”, which explores the struggle to preserved Algeria’s political ideals, forged in revolution.

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