Under the Radar: Women writing from outside the Arab literary mainstream by The British Library


In a global literary market where even the major writers from the best known Arab literary countries – Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon – are not very widely read and translated, how does it feel to be a woman author from Yemen, or Libya? What is it like to write fiction from countries outside of the main literary geographies, whilst also being a woman in a patriarchal world? What are the pressures and the inspirations, the challenges and the opportunities of these multiple levels of marginalisation?

Writers Najwa Benshatwan and Nadia Alkokabany were invited to participate in a conversation with Bidisha. However, both authors were denied visas. Instead, they addressed the audience by video and read from their novels. Bidisha was joined in conversation by poet and translator Mona Kareem.

Najwa Benshatwan grew up in Libya. The first woman in her family to be literate, she went on to win several Arabic literary prizes. Persecuted by the Gaddafi regime for her writing, she relocated to Italy, where she now lives. Her historical novel on Libya’s role in the slave trade, The Slave Pens, was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2017. She is currently working on a novel about female Eastern European migrants to Western Europe.

Nadia Al-Kokabany is a Yemeni academic and a prolific literary writer. Her fiction has been translated into English, French, German and Italian, and she has won prizes in Yemen and Kuwait. Her 2016 novel, The Ali Muhsin Market is a tale of the many different ways the Yemeni revolution turned her city’s life upside down.

Hosted by acclaimed journalist, critic, political analyst and broadcaster Bidisha. Bidisha is a journalist, critic, political analyst and broadcaster. Her most recent book, Asylum and Exile: Hidden Voices of London, is based on her outreach work with asylum seekers and refugees. Bidisha has just completed her sixth book, a collection of travel pieces from India, Italy and China.