Hanan al-Shaykh: My Travels Through Cultures, Languages and Writing

A photography of Hanan al-Shaykh by Mick Lindberg

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From Abu Nuwas to Bint Al-Shaykh

In this year’s Saif Ghobash Banipal Translation Prize Lecture, Hanan al-Shaykh, the internationally acclaimed Lebanese novelist and playwright, discusses her writing and how it continues on the path of ancient Arabic literary traditions and the great 8th-century poet Abu Nuwas in being open and bold in tackling subjects such as sexuality and feminism. She also explores how travelling between cultures and languages has affected her works and created new encounters with modernity and diversity in cultures, literary genres, and the Arabic language.

When Hanan al-Shaykh first discovered the 1,220-year-old lyric poems and wine songs of the great poet Abu Nuwas she was already making her own waves as a young journalist on Beirut’s daily An-Nahar newspaper and Al-Hasna, a magazine for women. She had embarked on a ground-breaking series of interviews with 21 prominent Lebanese women, including the first woman politician, the first judge, the first doctor, and Anbara Salam Khalidi, the first woman in Lebanon to abandon the veil. Hanan was inspired by Layla Baalbaki’s revolutionary novel Ana Ahya (I Live), a powerful protest for individual liberty against oppressive patriarchy, while in 1960s Beirut Russian, French and English classics translated into Arabic were very popular. Hanan was reading these as well as Arabic literature, and especially works of the existentialist movement, in English and Arabic. Earlier in Cairo, as a student, she immersed herself in the greats of Egyptian literature, and it was there that her writing career took off as she finished her first novel, Suicide of a Dead Man.

The evening also features a brief performance by the wonderful oud player Joseph Tawadros.

Hanan al-Shaykh is a celebrated and award-winning novelist, playwright, journalist and storyteller from Lebanon, renowned for laying bare the world as she sees it, devoid of clichés and stereotypes. Though her works feature female protagonists who struggle to be free of social, patriarchal and religious restrictions, she never labels herself an 'Arab feminist writer'. Her works have been translated into 21 languages around the world. She holds an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from the American University of Beirut, and in June this year was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

In association with The Banipal Trust for Arab Literature

Photo by Mick Lindberg


Name: Hanan al-Shaykh: My Travels Through Cultures, Languages and Writing
Where: Knowledge Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road
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When: -
Price: Full Price: £13.00
Senior 60+: £11.00
Student: £6.50
Registered Unemployed: £6.50
Disabled: £6.50
Under 18: £6.50
18-25: £6.50
Enquiries: +44 (0)1937 546546