Shubbak Literature Festival

30 June Shubbak Literature Festival

A celebration of contemporary Arabic writing

The British Library welcomes the return of the literature focus of London’s acclaimed biennial arts festival Shubbak : A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture.

Join a day of conversation and readings with writers from across the Arab world and diaspora. Leïla Slimani, Inaam Kachachi and many others explore contemporary Arab feminism, the rise of queer memoir and creative writing, Kurdish literature in English translation, the contemporary historical novel and more.

Art installations by Bricklab and Aicha El Beloui will also be on display. Book stall by Saqi Books.

Full day and part-day tickets are available.

Full day programme

11.30 Doors open


12.00 – 13.15           The Endless Wave New Feminist Writing

What does it mean to be an Arab feminist in 2019? How does the legacy of previous generations of feminists from the region intersect with contemporary creative practice and globalised movements like #MeToo? Three feminist artists from very different contexts, using diverse art forms, discuss and perform their work.

French-Moroccan journalist, commentator and Prix Goncourt-winning novelist Leïla Slimani’s recent nonfiction work on Moroccan women’s sexuality has generated much debate. Egyptian graphic novelist and web comic artist Deena Mohamed is the creator of the veiled female superhero Qahera and multiple award-winner at Cairo Comix. Badriah al Beshr is a Saudi journalist, chat show host and novelist known for tackling women’s issues for over twenty years.

13.30 – 14.00           New Arab Writing From London: Malu Halasa’s Mother Of All Pigs

“A patriarchal order in slow-motion decline… Halasa exhibits some of the verve and complexity of Naguib Mahfouz’s incomparable Cairo Trilogy” NEW YORK TIMES

Malu Halasa is a writer in London who has co-edited five anthologies on Middle East culture and politics. Her debut novel, Mother of All Pigs, unveils contemporary life in Jordan, as one family confronts its secrets over the course of a weekend’s festivities. At times witty and energetic, compassionate and awe-inspiring, an Arabic translation of the novel is planned by Kotob Khan for 2020. Malu Halasa reads from and discusses the novel, her inspiration and writing process.

14.15 – 15.30           Bold Voices New Queer Writing

Following on from Shubbak’s first queer literary panel in 2017, Bold Voices brings together a new range of writers and artists working at the cutting edge of LGBT+ creative expression. Three artists from this exciting and defiant scene present their multidisciplinary approach ranging from comics to storytelling and activism.

From Beirut comes poet, playwright and actress Dima Mikhayel Matta, the founder of Beirut’s storytelling platform  Cliffhangers. Syrian Swedish novelist Khaled Alesmael's Selamlik, a homoerotic depiction of Syria, has sold over 2,000 copies in Sweden. Joseph Kai, whose comics centre around the unspoken, marginalization and gender, is editor at the Lebanese collective Samandal.


16.00 – 16.30           New Syrian Fiction:  Dima Wannous’s The Frightened Ones

Born in Damascus in 1982, Dima Wannous is a writer and cultural journalist. She has written for multiple Arab and international newspapers, managed the cultural section of the online magazine Modon between 2012-2014, and hosted a cultural show on Orient TV from 2008-2018. Her second novel, The Frightened Ones, focuses on the notion of fear, its mechanisms, and how

central it is to dictatorship. Shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2018, the novel is about to be published in Elisabeth Jaquette’s English translation by Harvill Secker in the UK. Dima Wannous reads from and discusses the novel, her inspiration and writing process.

16.45 – 17.15           New Kurdish Fiction Bakhtiyar Ali’s I Stared At The Night Of The City and The Last Pomegranate

Bakhtiyar Ali is an Iraqi Kurdish novelist and literary critic, essayist and poet, and is widely considered one of the most prominent Kurdish writers. In 2017, he won the prestigious Nelly Sachs Prize. His novel I Stared at the Night of the City was a bestseller in Iraqi Kurdistan and then made history as the first Kurdish novel ever to be published in English translation.

He is joined by his translator Kareem Abdulrahman, currently completing the translation of Ali’s next novel The Last Pomegranate due out in English next year, to read an exclusive extract and to discuss contemporary Kurdish literature in the Arab world and beyond.

17.30 – 18.45 Telling The Past Contemporary Arab Historical Novels

Many Arab writers create historical novels to recast fraught histories. What are their motivations and methods in approaching history through the creative lens? Do they feel a responsibility to be historically accurate whilst fictionalising a certain period?

Twice shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), Iraqi multidisciplinary writer Inaam Kachachi’s novels have focused on contemporary Iraqi history. Iraqi-Welsh journalist and writer Ruqaya Izzidien’s debut novel features Iraqi, Welsh and English characters in WWI Baghdad. Sudanese IPAF-shortlisted author Hammour Ziada’s latest historical novel examines cycles of patriarchal and political oppression through twentieth-century Sudan. London-based Palestinian novelist Rabai al-Madhoun’s IPAF winning Destinies, Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba is a four-part epic of the Palestinian exodus and right to return.


Two free installations accompany Shubbak Literature Festival.

11.00 – 17.30           Geographical Child’s Play by Bricklab

British Library Piazza

Bricklab - Abdulrahman and Turki Gazzaz - are the designers of the first Saudi pavilion at Venice Architecture Biennale create a new pop-up sculpture especially for Shubbak. 22 brightly coloured units resembling the 22 states of the Arab League are arranged in different constellations to offer poignant and surprising alignments and dependencies, new viewpoints of geographies, nations and the power to imagine other realities.

11.00 – 17.00            Aicha El Beloui

British Library Entrance Hall

Casablanca-based artist and graphic designer Aicha El Beloui’s distinctive map-installation explores the psychogeography and history of Moroccan immigration to Britain. Filled with richly textured incident and associative connections it charts original dreams and aspirations, routes taken and today’s experiences of second and third generation young people, and reflects on themes of citizenship and belonging.

Presented in partnership with the International Prize for Arabic Fiction


Presented with additional support from Arts Council England, British Council, Bagri Foundation, A M Qattan Foundation, Cockayne Grants for the Arts and London Community Foundation, Drosos Foundation, Institut français du Royaume-Uni and Qatar Foundation International. Dima Wannous and Bakhtiyar Ali’s presence is supported in association with Literature Across Frontiers as part of the project Literary Europe Live Plus co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union.

Image: Leïla Slimani by Catherine Hélie © Editions Gallimard

Series events

30 June Shubbak Literature Festival

Shubbak Literature Festival - Full Day Pass

30 June Shubbak Literature Festival

Shubbak Literature Festival - Part 1 Pass

30 June Shubbak Literature Festival

Shubbak Literature Festival - Part 2 Pass