Following The Year of Reading in 2016, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, declared that every March would be the annual month of reading, and 2019 is no exception. In October of 2017, President of the UAE HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced a “Reading Law” which obliged schools to encourage reading among students, in addition to promoting a respect for books. Meanwhile, Shiekh Mohammed launched the Arab Reading Challenge, the largest Arab knowledge initiative in the world, a year previously in 2015.
To celebrate the initiative, we round up five influential Arab female authors you need to familiarize yourself with. If you’re looking for an inspiring book to bump to the top of your reading list, below, discover some of the Middle Eastern writers who helped champion women’s rights through Arabic literature.
Ghada Al-Samman (1942-present)
Ghadah Al-Samman is a Syrian writer, journalist, and novelist born in Damascus in 1942. The daughter of the president of the Syrian University, literary talent clearly runs in her family as she shares relations with Nizar Qabbani, one of the most famous Arabic poets. Al-Samman has over 40 published works, which includes everything from novels and short stories, to poetry and journal entries, and is regarded as one of the most influential voices of gender equality in the Arab world.
Nawal El Saadawi (1931-present)
Nawal El Saadawi is the second-most-translated author from Arabic after Naghib Mahfouz. The Egyptian writer and doctor is often described as the “the Simone de Beauvoir of the Arab World” for her feminist non-fiction on subjects pertaining to gender equality and patriarchal and class oppression. The 87-year-old, who is the founder and president of the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association, has racked up a number of awards for her eye-opening work, including the North–South Prize from the Council of Europe and the Inana International Prize. In 2012, the International Peace Bureau awarded her the 2012 Seán MacBride Peace Prize.
Assia Djebar (1936-2015)
Born Fatima-Zohra Imalayen in a small seaport village near Algiers, the novelist is more commonly known by her pen name, Assia Djebar, which she adopted for the publication of her first novel, La Soif (The Thirst). A noted feminist author, her work explored the plight of Algerian women within a post-colonial context. In 2005, Djebar was elected to France’s foremost literary institution, the Académie française, an institution tasked with guarding the heritage of the French language. She was the first writer from North Africa, and the fifth woman, to be elected to the organization.
Inaam Kachachi (1952-present)
Before moving to France to obtain her PhD, Inaam Kachachi worked as a journalist in Baghdad, where she was born. In addition to writing several pieces for Arabic print media, the Iraqi writer also published several fiction and non-fiction titles, including Tashari, which was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2014. Her second novel, The American Granddaughter was nominated for the Arabic Booker Prize.
Sahar Khalifeh (1941-present)
One of the most important living Palestinian novelists, Sahar Khalifeh is known for her work that examines the daily lives of Palestinians under occupation. Her CV includes fiction and non-fiction novels, as well as many articles and journal entries that explore topics of discrimination and oppression of Arabic women. The writer was the recipient of many awards, including the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in Egypt, the Mohamed Zafzaf Prize in Morocco, and France’s the Simone de Beauvoir Prize. Many of her acclaimed works have been translated into English, French, German, and Hebrew.