Less than forty years ago Arab women creative writers were virtually unknown at home and abroad. The two celebrated exceptions, the Syrian Colette Khoury and the Lebanese Layla Baalbaki, who had published some stories in the late 1950s, highlighted this absence. Then, in the mid-1970s, the situation began to change. In 1975 the Egyptian physician-activist-novelist Nawal El Saadawi, who had been publishing nonfiction since the late 1950s, brought out her Imraʾa ʿinda nuqtat al-sifr. This novella about a psychiatrist’s meeting with a woman prisoner the night before her execution for killing her pimp was quickly recognized as a classic. It was translated into English as Woman at Point Zero in 1983 and became essential reading in courses on Arabic literature. In 1986 the first international women’s book fair in London launched two new names: the Lebanese Hanan...

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