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Layla Baalbaki: The Last Existential Feminist

Upon her passing, critics must reintroduce the late author, whose literary legacy was lost in the haze of time
 
Despite her reputation as one of the boldest Lebanese women writers at the peak of her career, Layla Baalbaki’s passing without much coverage on October 21, 2023, though delivering a shock throughout the Arab literary world, did not come as a surprise given the journalist and writer’s retreat from the spotlight since the 60s. Baalbaki was the first Lebanese woman tried in court for “outraging public decency” with her short story collection, “Spaceship of Tenderness to the Moon” (1963). The late writer’s life has been shrouded in mystery since she departed from literary fiction, even more so after her death. As many recall the impact of her works, others speculate on her short-lived literary career in equal fervor: why did Layla Baalbaki stop writing? Did she leave behind any notes or a memoir about her life before her passing? Without the woman herself to confirm or deny, any answers remain mere speculation.

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Farewell to Habib Sadek (1931-2023): Friend, Poet, and Exceptionally Honest Politician

Having Self-Exiled from the Turbulent World of Lebanese Politics, Sadek Dies Peacefully at 92
By 
Elie Chalala

Rarely do I get personal in my notebooks and essays, but this time I will. On July 1, 2023, I lost a friend in Lebanon whom I had known for more than four decades, and even longer if I count the years before I met him in person in Los Angeles. Habib Sadek (1931-2023) was a Lebanese intellectual, poet, author, head of the Cultural Council of Southern Lebanon, former parliamentarian, and, more importantly, someone whose support deeply impacted the early years of Al Jadid Magazine, for which I will always be grateful.

Nazik al-Malaika: Queen of Free Verse Remains Uncertain

Fifty Years of Debate Yield No Consensus Over Her Place on the Throne of New Arabic Poetry
By 
Elie Chalala

Rarely do I open a cultural page in Arab newspapers, whether print or online, without catching wind of new discourse on modern poetry. Though I have never written poetry, the topic naturally draws my interest as an academic in political science, lecturing on debates between tradition and modernity for nearly a third of a century...Debates between traditional and new poetry shouldn’t be dismissed as simply Byzantine arguments. Such discourse indicates significant changes in the Arab world, including modernization and later globalization. Several critics have raised this discussion, the latest of which was in a column by Aref al-Saadi in Asharq Al Awsat, who writes, “I say this based on a slow study of our contemporary poetry and its trends, and I say it because it is the logical result of our willingness to read European literature and study the latest theories in philosophy, art, and psychology. In reality, those who want to combine modern culture with ancient traditions of poetry are like those living today in the clothes of the first century of immigration.” According to Saadi, there are two alternatives to discussing modernity and tradition: “Either we learn the theories, are influenced by them, and apply them, or we do not learn them at all. It may be useful for us to remember that the development in the arts and literature in a given era arises from the meeting of two or more nations.” Closed nations don’t produce anything new but merely repeat what their ancestors did.

To a Woman He Never Met: What Gibran’s Love Letters to May Ziadeh Reveal About the Inner Life of the ‘Prophet’s’ Author

By 
Lynne Rogers

For the ordinary reader, “Love Letters” is a short yet savorable book, with letters you can thumb through when drawn to thoughtful musings or aspirations to better oneself. For those interested in Gibran as either a literary giant or an artist, this collection of letters provides a nuanced narrative of his deep spiritual yearnings, dedication to his work, extended gentleness, and benevolent humor. This touching correspondence between these two seminal intellectuals weaves together their mundane concerns, from Ziadeh’s change of hairstyle to intimate emotional and spiritual revelations, as well as Gibran’s aesthetic reflections, adding an empathic human depth to further appreciate both his art and life as an artist.

A Fresh Look at the Debate: Definitions and Historiography of Arab Americans in the New Century

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By 
Elie Chalala
 
Arab American literature and how we define it remains central to the field’s discourse. Some scholars believe prior knowledge of Arab culture is essential to comprehending Arab American literature since it is an ethnic genre. Since the 20th century until the present, Arab Americans have strongly lobbied to classify Arab American studies as an ethnic field and draw a line between Middle East studies — which belongs to the area studies — and ethnic studies.

The Imperialism of Indifference: From Colonial Voice to Reliable News Source Trusted by Generations, the BBC Closes its Iconic Arabic Radio After 85 Years

By 
Elie Chalala

The demise of BBC Arabic closes a chapter in modern Arab history. This is not a romantic or idealistic lamentation. Any Arab student or scholar who lived through or part of the post-WWI era of the 20th century can easily recognize the association between BBC Arabic and major political events. The question becomes not who are the writers of history — it is a history written by the literate or middle classes as opposed to a popular history. How can scholars tell that BBC Arabic was part of the lives of the groups who have written about the contemporary history of the Arab world? We rely on two indicators: literacy and politicization. When I use the term history, I believe that most if not all those who wrote on the political history of the Arab world came from literate classes and were part of groups ‌that cared for and even were engaged in politics. Those included pan-Arabists of the radical schools such as Nasserites and Bathists, conservatives, Islamists, and those moderate liberals opposed to socialists and communist groups.

Brexit and Lebanon’s Economic Collapse Close the Chapter of London’s Iconic Saqi Bookshop

By 
Naomi Pham and Elie Chalala
For 44 years, Al Saqi Books has served as the beating heart of Arab culture for tourists, expatriates, and Arab readers in London — but after struggling to stay afloat amid a rocky economic climate both in the Middle East and at home in the United Kingdom, the independent bookstore recently announced its closure at the end of the month, just before the new year. Over the past decade, bookstores worldwide have been forced to shut their doors. Syria and Lebanon have faced closures due to economic and social crises (read more about the state of the Arab world’s publishing industry in Al Jadid, Vol. 25, Nos. 80-81, 2021 and Vol. 26, Nos. 82-83, 2022). The bookstore chain Borders was liquidated in 2011, and even Barnes & Noble has closed several of its locations. Independent bookstores have taken especially hard hits as the culture of reading shifts with technology, making it increasingly difficult to keep up with costs.
 

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