Women Writers of the Arab World

Hedgebrook‘s latest initiative, in partnership with the Arab American Community Coalition, is nothing short of groundbreaking. It’s called Women Writers of the Arab World and it brings together six writers from different countries and different experiences: Raja Alem of Saudi Arabia, Suheir Hammad of Palestine and the US, Choman Hardi of Iraqi Kurdistan and the UK, Alia Mamdouh of Iraq and France, Somaya Ramadan of Egypt, and Ibtihal Salem of Egypt. The women were awarded a month-long residency at the Hedgebrook Writers’ Retreat, where they worked on a fiction or non-fiction project. In addition to this gift of time and space, the writers were given the rare opportunity to meet with each other and with readers from the Northwest, through readings, panels, and workshops (listed here.)

This weekend, Alex and I drove up to Seattle to attend one of the events, which was held in a packed auditorium at the University of Washington. Moderated by Therese Saliba, the panel featured Raja Alem, Choman Hardi, and Ibtihal Salem. They read from their work (poetry for Hardi, short fiction for Salem and Alem) and discussed the role of translation in their lives. Hardi made a conscious choice to start writing in English; she was dissatisfied with translations of her poetry from the Kurdish, which came out sounding ‘precious’ and so she preferred to write directly in English and to reach English readers that way rather than through translations. Salem stressed the importance of culture in translation. “It’s important,” she said, “that the translator be not just familiar with the language but with its people. Ideally the translator has lived in the cuture he/she translates.” And Saudi-born Alem talked about how, despite her country’s censors, she has managed to have her voice heard within the Kingdom. “The trouble,” she said, “is getting heard outside of it, because all the outside world wants is stereotypes of veils.” After writing seven novels in Arabic, Alem has now written her first in English.

Later, at the post-event reception, I spent way too much money at the Elliot Bay Book Company stand, which had a very impressive array of literature by Arab and Arab American authors. I also got to meet and chat with uber-cool poetess Suheir Hammad, and with the amazing Fadia Faqir, who was due to fly back to the U.K. the next day. A wonderful event. I only wish that there were more like these in the Northwest.

Seattle P.I.: Arab women writers take part in ‘an amazing event.’
Seattle Times: Arab women writers making Seattle appearances.
Seattle Weekly: Unveiling the Middle East.
Moorishgirl: At Hedgebrook, Peace and Quiet, At Last.