An acclaimed novelist, short story writer and playwright – the most accomplished woman writing in Arabic today – Hanan al-Shaykh left Beirut for London in 1983, and continues to write in her mother tongue. A prominent journalist when the civil war broke out, she said, ‘War is an x-ray showing us who we are. There were two wars: the civil war – a men’s war – and the war fought all the time with family and traditions.’
Her latest book, The Occasional Virgin, moves from the Italian Riviera to Arab London in its much-praised exploration of exile, memory and the sea. The novel is a witty comedy of sexual manners about two ‘modern’ women from Lebanon in pursuit of love and freedom, and the hypocrisy of the religious fundamentalists who cloak their youthful desires in piety. Hanan Al-Shaykh speaks to Maya Jaggi about her life and writing, including her memoir, The Locust and the Bird, about her mother, a child bride who left to marry her secret lover when Hanan was five.
HANAN AL-SHAYKH is one of the Arab world’s most celebrated writers. Born in Lebanon, she writes in Arabic, and her work has been translated into 28 languages, including Italian. Her novels include The Story of Zahra – ground-breaking in its frankness about women’s lives and desire in war-torn Beirut – Women of Sand and Myrrh, Beirut Blues, Only in London – shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize – and The Occasional Virgin. She is the author of the short story collection I Sweep the Sun off Rooftops; The Locust and the Bird, a memoir of her mother’s life; and One Thousand and One Nights, an acclaimed reimagining of Arabic folktales, which was adapted and performed at the Edinburgh Festival. Her stage plays include A Dark Afternoon Tea and The Paper Husband. She lives in London, and has also lived in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the South of France. She was this year made a Fellow of the UK’s Royal Society of Literature, and awarded an honorary doctorate from the American University in Beirut.
MAYA JAGGI is Director and co-presenter of Suoni dal Golfo’s Sea of Stories on the Gulf of Poets. A writer, critic, cultural journalist, consultant and artistic director in London, where she was born, she has reported from five continents and interviewed 14 Nobel prizewinners among hundreds of cultural figures, from Günter Grass and Umberto Eco to Salman Rushdie and Edward Said. Her writing on global art, literature and music appears in the Financial Times, New York Review of Books, New York Times and Words Without Borders – where she is Critic at Large – and she contributes to the BBC. She was a leading profile writer and critic for the Guardian newspaper’s Review in 1999-2015, and is ‘one of Britain’s most respected arts journalists,’ according to the Open University, which awarded her an honorary doctorate in 2012. She has been an Associate Fellow of Warwick University, a DAAD Arts and Media Fellow in Berlin and an EU Senior Expert in Cultural Journalism in post-Soviet Europe. She holds degrees from Oxford University and the London School of Economics.
This conversation is part of the Lebanese focus of Sea of Stories on the Gulf of Poets. The talk will be in English with simultaneous translation into Italian.
This evening is free entry/entrata gratis