At the British Library on 7 November 2019

The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation

The 2019 Annual Lecture

Hanan al-Shaykh:

My travels through Cultures, Languages and Writing

From Abu Nuwas to Bint Al-Shaykh


7pm, Thursday, 7 November 2019 

The Knowledge Centre, British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB

Show Map and How to get to the Library 

British Library webpage for this Lecture

When Hanan Al-Shaykh first discovered the 1,220-year-old lyric poems and wine songs of the great poet Abu Nuwas she was already making her own waves as a young journalist on Beirut’s daily An-Nahar newspaper and Al-Hasna, a magazine for women. She had embarked on a ground-breaking series of interviews with 21 prominent Lebanese women, including the first woman politician, the first judge, the first doctor, and Anbara Salam Khalidi, the first woman in Lebanon to abandon the veil. Hanan was inspired by Layla Baalbaki’s revolutionary novel Ana Ahya (I Live), a powerful protest for individual liberty against oppressive patriarchy, while in ‘60s Beirut Russian, French and English classics translated into Arabic were very popular. Hanan was reading these as well as Arabic literature, and especially works of the existentialist movement, in English and Arabic. Earlier in Cairo, as a student, she immersed herself in the greats of Egyptian literature, and it was there that her writing career took off as she finished her first novel, Suicide of a Dead Man.  In this Saif Ghobash Banipal Translation Prize lecture, Hanan al-Shaykh, tells us how her writing continues on the path of the ancient Arabic literary traditions in being open and bold in tackling subjects such as sexuality and feminism, and how her travelling between cultures and languages has affected her works and created new encounters with modernity and diversity – in cultures, literary genres, and the Arabic language.


Hanan Al-Shaykh is a celebrated and award-winning novelist, playwright, journalist and storyteller from Lebanon, renowned for laying bare the world as she sees it, devoid of clichés and stereotypes. Though her works feature female protagonists who struggle to be free of social, patriarchal and religious restrictions, she never labels herself an “Arab feminist writer”. Her latest “mischievous” novel in English translation, The Occasional Virgin, published last year, never ceases to entertain and “intrigues on many levels” in its discussions of religion and sex. Her first to be translated, The Story of Zahra, was followed by Women of Sand and Myrrh, Beirut Blues and Only in London, shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, plus the short story collection I Sweep the Sun off Rooftops. The Locust and the Bird is the highly acclaimed memoir of her mother’s life. Her plays include Dark Afternoon Tea and Paper Husband. One of her recent works, One Thousand and One Nights, is a thrilling retelling of stories from the Arabian Nights (Alf Layla wa Layla). Her works have been translated into 21 languages around the world. Hanan al-Shaykh holds an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from the American University of Beirut, and in June this year was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

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Published Date - 09/09/2019