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The Media Line
Public Event – We Wrote in Symbols

Public Event – We Wrote in Symbols

Fri, 11 Jun 2021 18:00 - 19:00 British Summer Time (UTC+1)

Register here.

Readings and conversation, open to all. This is the second part of a CHASE-funded workshop held at Birkbeck and SOAS, University of London.

About this event

This public event in the series of Arabic Poetry and Stories in Translation is titled We Wrote in Symbols, after the recently published anthology, which Selma Dabbagh edited and Emily Selove contributed to.

Selma Dabbagh will give a reading and explore her editorial role in the collection; Emily Selove will read translated passages from the scathing letters of a 10th-century courtesan to her master, and discuss some of the questions that they raise about female sexuality, power, and self-expression in medieval Arabic literature. We are also going to be joined by other contributors from the anthology, including Hanan Al-Shaykh, Marilyn Hacker & Samira Negrouche.

The programme is divided into two parts, with the workshop taking place 3-5 pm (BST), through a separate booking and this public event held 6-7 pm (BST).

Attendees will receive a 30% discount code for the book, sent prior to the event.

Please note that this event will be recorded.

More details available at:

For queries, email the organizers at:

We Wrote in Symbols: Love and Lust by Arab Women Writers is a unique collection of the voices of 75 writers, from the classical to the contemporary, that spans over 3,000 years of women’s writing on the erotic. The collection comprises prose, in the form of short stories and novel excerpts, as well as poetry and one letter, written by the concubine Zad-Mihr, sent from 11th-century Basra to her master in Baghdad. We Wrote In Symbols combines previously published writing with new work and includes writers long deceased, with contemporary writers, many of whom (Ahdaf Soueif, Leïla Slimani, Hoda Barakat, Nathalie Handal, Randa Jarrar, Adania Shibli, Salwa al Neimi, Sabrina Mahfouz) are highly acclaimed, others who have never been published in English previously (for example, Farah Barqawi, Hiba Moustafa, Samia Issa). The writers, some of whom are anonymous and others of whom write under pseudonyms, write in English, French and Arabic and come from the three monotheistic religions, or none. An eclectic collection that presents the intelligent, irreverent, sexy, humorous and tender voices of women identified with the region, it subverts monolithic assumptions of the region and the people identified with it.

Selma Dabbagh is a British Palestinian writer of fiction. Born in Dundee, she has lived in Bahrain, Cairo, Kuwait, Jeddah, Grenoble and Jerusalem. She now lives in London. Her short stories have been published by Granta, Wasafiri, Saqi and International PEN. Her first novel, ‘Out of It,’ (Bloomsbury) was set between Gaza, London and the Gulf and was a Guardian Book of the Year. Selma has also written radio plays The Brick (BBC Radio 4) that was nominated for an Imison Award and a futuristic play set in Palestine in 2048, Sleep It Off, Dr. Schott, produced by WDR in Germany. She has also written for the stage and the screen. Her work has appeared in a number of Saqi anthologies, Qissat; Short Stories by Palestinian Women (ed. Jo Glanville, 2006) as well as The Things I Would Tell You; British Muslim Women Write (edited by Sabrina Mahfouz, 2017). We Wrote In Symbols; Love and Lust by Arab Women Writers (Saqi, 2021) is her first edited collection.

Emily Selove (PhD 2012, UCLA) is a senior lecturer in Medieval Arabic Language and Literature at the University of Exeter. Her early research focused on the figure of the uninvited guest (or “party-crasher”) in medieval Arabic literature, and especially on the 11th-century work Ḥikāyat Abī l-Qāsim, the subject of her monograph, Ḥikāyat Abī l-Qāsim: A Literary Banquet (Edinburgh University Press, 2016). She co-edited and translated this text with Professor Geert Jan van Gelder. Her translation of another 11th-century book of party-crashing is titled Selections from the Art of Party-Crashing in Medieval Iraq. She recently edited a co-authored textbook to introduce beginning students to the city of medieval Baghdad, Baghdad at the Centre of a World: 8th-13th Century, and has also created a collection of cartoons titled Popeye and Curly: 120 Days in Medieval Baghdad, to accompany this textbook.

Dr Selove was a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Manchester from 2012-2014, working on the ERC-funded Arabic Commentaries on the Hippocratic Aphorisms project. She has articles published and in progress on medieval Arabic medicine and magic. She is currently the PI of a Leverhulme-funded research project, “A Sorcerer’s Handbook,” which will create an edition, translation, and literary study of Sirāj al-Dīn al-Sakkākī’s (d. 1229) magic handbook, Kitāb al-Shāmil wa-baḥr al-kāmil (The Book of the Complete).

Hanan al-Shaykh is a celebrated and award-winning novelist, playwright, journalist and storyteller from Lebanon. Her books include I Sweep the Sun Off Rooftops (Bloomsbury, 2002), Women of Sand and Myrrh (Bloomsbury, 2010), Two Thousand and One Nights (Bloomsbury, 2011) and The Occasional Virgin (Pantheon, 2018). Her word has been translated into twenty-one languages. In June 2019, al-Shaykh was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Marilyn Hacker is the author of fourteen books of poems, including Blazons (Carcanet, 2019) and A Stranger’s Mirror (Norton, 2015), and an essay collection, Unauthorized Voices (Michigan, 2010). Eighteen translations of French and Francophone poets include Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s A Handful of Blue Earth (Liverpool, 2017) and Jean-Paul de Dadelsen’s That Light, All At Once (Yale, 2020). She received the 2010 PEN Voelcker Award and the international Argana Prize for Poetry from the Beit as-Sh’ir/ House of Poetry in Morocco in 2011.

Samira Negrouche is a doctor, poet and translator from Algiers. Her poetry has been translated into 20+ languages and she has freequently collaborated with visual artists, choreographers and musicians. Her books include A l’ombre de Grenade (Lettres Char-nues, 2003), Six arbres de fortune author de ma baignoire (Éditions Mazette, 2017) and Traces (Fidel Anthelme, 2021). ‘Between scrawls and sketches’, included in We Wrote in Symbols: Love and Lust by Arab Women Writers, was translated by Marilyn Hacker and was published in a bilingual edition titles The Olive Trees’ Jazz & Other Poems (Pleiades Press, 2020).

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