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Nazik al-Malaika: Queen of Free Verse Remains Uncertain

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.


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As 20th Century Begins, British ‘Orientalism’ Tool of Colonialism

By D.W. Aossey

Long writes the book in a scholarly manner, but redeems it with a depth of insight and information on these fascinating personalities at a very important time in Middle Eastern history. Certainly, most will find “Reading Arabia” worth a look.

Reading Arabia: British Orientalism in the Age of Mass Publication 1880 –1930
By Andrew C. Long
Syracuse University Press, 2014. 264 pp.

Orientalism’s Children: “Voices from the Threshold”

By Angele Ellis

Nearly 11 years ago, an automobile accident on a dusty Jordanian road cut Susan Atefat-Peckham’s life and work short. The Iranian American poet, memoirist and Full bright Scholar now takes her rightful place among the likes of Gregorgy Orfalea and Sharif Elmusa with her “Talking Through the Door.” The anthology transports readers to various eras and exotic locales, going back to Ibn Hazm’s 10th-century Cordoba, the Lebanon of World War I, pre-revolutionary Iran as well as 1950s and 60s Ohio. “Readers will find that these works carry with them a power and promise so life-affirming that Lisa Suhair Majaj describes them as ‘sustenance.’”

Talking Through the Door: An Anthology of Contemporary Middle Eastern American Writing
Edited by Susan Atefat-Peckham
With a Foreword by Lisa SuheirMajaj
Syracuse University Press, 2014, pp.  244

Assia Djebar (1936-2015)

Home in France; Heart in Algeria
Elie Chalala

The remarkable Assia Djebar has proven almost as controversial in death as in life. Some argued that the writer, who focused on the very human concerns of women, could not be a feminist. Other issues of contention included the Algerian author’s choice to write in French, the language of her country’s former colonizers. Certainly, her induction into the prestigious French Academy as an “immortal,” or life-long member, created controversy, with many critics overlooking the fact that the writer used “the language of the colonizer to document its savagery and some of its bloody memories.” In death, as in life, it appears that Djebar will continue to challenge her critics and provide topics of lively debate. Read more about her life and final journey back to Algeria in the following article.

Assia Djebar has been a problematic for some Arab intellectuals, both when she became an "immortal" or a life-long member of the prestigious French Academy, and when her name was frequently mentioned as a Nobel Prize contender. Her recent death on February 6 proved no exception.  As her body lay in one of Paris’ hospitals, the same questions arose:  Why were her works not translated enough into Arabic, while her novels were translated into scores of other languages? A valid question.

Etab Hreib on Conflict, Commercialism , and Sexism in Syria’s Current Art Movement

Rebecca Joubin

In the this interview with the critically acclaimed Syrian watercolorist, Etab Hreib, she discusses the interrelated nature of the arts in the context of her own love for the theater and set design, and details various influences on her work.

Critically acclaimed Syrian watercolorist, Etab Hreib, a native of Der-Ez-Zor, graduated from the Graphic Arts Department of the University of Damascus. Since then, she has exhibited her work in various parts of the world. She was the recipient of the Al-Mahros Golden Award in Tunisia, a Golden Award from the Chinese Ministry of Culture, and an award from the Ministry of Culture in Algeria.

Evelyn Shakir: Memoirs of an Arab-American Writer, Teacher, and Humanist

By Lynne Rogers

 The World lost a great writer, teacher, scholar, and humanist when Arab-American Evelyn Shakir finally succumbed to breast cancer in 2010. Fortunately, Shakir bequeathed a rich literary legacy to her students, family, and admirers, one that reached its pinnacle with the publication of her final book, "Teaching Arabs, Writing Self, Memoirs of an Arab-American Woman," which is reviewed by Lynne Rogers for Al Jadid. The work documents her experiences growing up as a Lebanese American, as well as her adventures teaching abroad in Lebanon, Bahrain, and Damascus. Interesting characters, observations, and experiences, all related in her gentle, humorous, and often ironic style, make this book one readers will not want to miss. Shakir avoids the pitfalls of being overly didactic through the simple but profound expediency of revealing the social history and politics of each particular moment through a wealth of human interaction.

Teaching Arabs, Writing Self, Memoirs of an Arab-American Woman
By Evelyn Shakir
Olive Branch Press. 2014. 170 pp.  

'Realist' Scholar's Argument Delights the Syrian Regime: 'To Crush ISIS, Make a Deal With Assad"!

Elie Chalala

"It feels surreal to even contemplate the possibility of Western powers crushing ISIS while allying with a regime that has facilitated the deaths of more than 200,000 of its citizens, displaced half of Syria's population, and transformed more than half of the country's infrastructure into a pile of rubble. How could the oppressed and marginalized Sunni communities ever trust in an alliance made with their tormentors?" (From The 'Realist' Scholar's Argument Strikes Delight in Syrian Regime: 'To Crush ISIS, Make a Deal With Assad"!)

Documentary Film Gives Voice to the Erotic Body

Kim Jensen

Joumana Haddad, Lebanese feminist, author, and poet, founded Jasad, the Arabic Journal of Erotic Arts, in order to advocate for the sexual liberation for the Arab World. In her film, “Jasad & The Queen of Contradictions” Amanda Homsi-Ottosson combines interviews with Haddad, Jasad journal contributors, and critics, as well as reactions from the street, and footage taken from the literary salons of Beirut, the Queen of Contradictions herself.  

Jasad & The Queen of Contradictions
A film by Amanda Homsi-Ottosson
Women Make Movies,  2011, 40 minutes