Some of the Most Famous Arab Writers from the Levant
By: Pamela Dimitrova/ Arab America Contributing Writer
The Levant has been the world’s ‘swing’ of art, especially poetry and literature. Many Arab writers and poets have been inspired by their life in that region and the social structure, using their words to fight injustice and build a better world. Here are a few of the most famous modern writers from the region, who will change your ideas and visions.
Ali Ahmud Said Esber (Adonis)
Ali Ahmad Said Esber, known by his pen name Adonis, is arguably one of the most prominent Arab writers from the Levant and has been regularly nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature since 1988. Adonis’ poetry epitomizes modernity and rebellion, building on the historic tradition of Arabic poetry which often deals with themes of transformation, exile, and reform. At the same time, he rejects the classic poetic structure and form in order to experiment with verse, meter, and prose poetry. He has been internationally recognized and was awarded the prestigious Bjørnson Prize in 2007 by the Norwegian Academy for Literature and Freedom of Expression, as well as winning the Goethe Prize of the City of Frankfurt in 2011.
Born in Damascus, in 1912, Ulfat Idilbi is one of Syria’s most successful and beloved authors. Her novels largely revolve around the position of women in society, and the tension between women in their private spheres and the public expectations and pressures put upon them. Her most famous novel Sabriya: Damascus Bitter Sweet (1980) depicts the sufferings of a young Syrian girl at the hands of the French occupation and the social pressures from her own family, and her search for personal and national identity. The novel was eventually adapted for Syrian television and has become a classic in Syria’s literary tradition.
Born to a well-known, affluent family in 1931, Colette Khoury is noted for being one of the first Arab writers from the Levant openly to address themes of love and eroticism in her novels and poetry. Due to this, her works have attracted a large amount of controversy for breaking literary and social taboos in Syria’s conservative society. Her works feature strong female protagonists who search for personal identity, romance, and sexual fulfillment, all while navigating society’s strict rules and expectations. Khoury herself is notable for challenging women’s place in society and politics. in 2009, she was made Syria’s first-ever ambassador to Lebanon and has written about a range of political issues in national newspapers and journals.
A journalist and a women’s rights activist, Joumana Haddad is one of Lebanon’s most honest voices and was elected one of the world’s 100 most powerful women in the Arab world by Arabian Business Magazine. Haddad speaks seven languages and has written in many of them. In her most successful books, I Killed Scheherazade and the sequel Superman is Arab, she explores issues of gender, feminism and the need for renewed self-image in a changing Arab world.
Perhaps one of the most, if not the most famous Arab writers from the Levant, Kahlil Gibran. He is a must-read for anyone. Born in Bsharri at the time of the Ottoman Empire, Gibran is a poet, writer, and artist. Having spent his life between Lebanon and New York, his work was both in Arabic and English. One of his most notable books is The Prophet, a nice tale of exploration and philosophy. If you’re looking for some insight on life, Gibran’s work is for you.
A Jordanian-Palestinian writer, artist, and professor, Ibrahim Nasrallah has won numerous accolades for his poetry and prose. He has also attracted controversy for the more outspoken elements of his work and has been the victim of political persecution for a spurious charge of insulting the Jordanian state in 2006. He has published 14 books of poetry, 13 novels, and two children’s books, and his 2009 novel, The Time of White Horses was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize for Arabic Fiction. Issues of exile, homecoming, and identity are central to his work, which has been described by Khoury-Machool as an ‘a site of struggle between his Jordanian citizenship and the tragedy of his Palestinian identity. His persistent questioning of the political landscape in the Middle East is what attracted the censure of the Jordanian state, who banned a collection of his poetry in 2006 and attempted to convict him of insulting the state and inciting dissension. Despite these setbacks, he has continued writing and publishing, refusing to be cowed by the ‘medieval forces’ behind state censorship.
Born in Jordan, Amjad Nasser has been recognized as one of the leading figures in Arabic poetry, Amjad Nasser’s works have been translated into French, Italian, English, and Spanish. His poetry often evokes the conflict between modernity and tradition in the Arab world and the cultural dislocation that this entails. Nasser has published nine volumes of poetry, four travel memoirs, and a novel; in addition, he was featured in many international literary festivals. He is currently based in London, where he edits the Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper. Moreover, Banipal Books has published a collection of his works in English, entitled: Shepherd of Solitude, Selected Poems, and the novel Land of No Rain which was released in English in 2013.
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