The arab spring has challenged Western stereotypes of Middle Eastern civil societies. We’ve seen insatiable demand for democracy in a region that most analysts had written off as politically passive or hopelessly brainwashed by authoritarianism and misogyny. We’ve seen formalized instruction and training on how to engage in nonviolent protest. We’ve seen defiant, hijab-wearing female activists — including an Egyptian young woman whose You-Tube videos helped launch the revolution. We’ve seen brilliant social media campaigns that mobilized a courageous, tech-savvy populace despite brutal government crackdowns.

Two recently released works of literature, both written before the Arab Spring, introduce Westerners to an array of fictional characters and real people who exemplify the creativity, agency, and diversity that have always been present in the Middle East but have received scant attention in Western media. Tablet & Pen is an anthology of Middle Eastern poetry, fiction,...

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