Ep 5 - Narrating the Middle East

People Like Us

31-10-2022 • 40 mins

Can we understand a culture and a region when we don’t read its authors? And what nuances do we miss when we read them in translation? How are authors and poets from the Middle East reaching new audiences? I speak to poet Zeina Hashem Beck, from Lebanon, living in California, about being an Arab Anglophone poet, how the duality of language shapes her work and the audience she is hoping to reach. Then off to Las Vegas to meet Egyptian novelist in exile, Ahmad Naji who spent time in an Egyptian jail for his sci-fi novel full of sexual innuendos and swear words. In his dark damp cell, he met the unlikeliest fellow readers. Finally, Yasmina Jraissati, founder of the Raya Literary Agency, talks to me about her quest to get the world to read authors from her region.

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For more on our guests…

Ahmed Naji is an Egyptian novelist, former journalist and literary critic living in exile in the U.S. He is the author of Using of Life which landed him in an Egyptian jail and Rotten Evidence: Reading and Writing in Prison about his experience in a prison cell. Ahmed is the recipient of many awards, including the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.

Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet now based in California, “after a lifetime in Lebanon and a decade in Dubai.” She writes about home, estrangement, language, the body, love, motherhood, and faith. Her latest book of poetry O was published by Penguin Random House this year. Her poetry has appeared in The Atlantic, Poetry Magazine and more.

Yasmina Jraissati is the founder of the Raya Literary agency which she created in 2004 to better represent and promote writers from the region to an international audience. A long time advocate of literature from the region, Yasmina was active in several initiatives to promote books from the Middle East to a worldwide readership.

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