Here’s the newest issue from Banipal, an independent literary magazine that publishes authors from the Arab world in English translation. This summer issue spotlights twelve women writers from all around the Arab diaspora, whose short stories and excerpted novels center on “human issues such as loss, identity, personal awakening, family relations, migration, exile, being black in the Arab world, prejudice, dealing with prison and discrimination, travel and local customs.” In addition to the feature on women authors, the issue includes works by five other Arabic writers, and initiates a new Guest Author component by highlighting the American poet Marilyn Hacker.
With so much media coverage on the Arab world in recent years, it’s both refreshing and compelling to experience it instead through the medium of literature. Most of the works in Banipal 44 aren’t currently available to preview online, but click here to check out a tantalizing list of authors and titles (Umbilical Cord, The Regions of Fear, and Habib Selmi’s article on “becoming a writer in a house with no books” all caught my eye). I was riveted by several of the authors’ bios, which you can find by clicking on the author’s name in the table of contents. Many of these writers have undergone a wrenching process of imprisonment and exile, just to publish their works. Take, for instance, the celebrated Iraqi poet-novelist, Fadhil al-Azzawi. He began publishing in his teens and was later thrown into jail twice for his writings and intellectualism – yet he still managed to smuggle in some of his poems and secretly get them published while serving his term. Due to the government’s growing hostility toward dissenters, he left the country in 1976 to teach in Germany and has never returned. His Miracle Maker: Selected Poems of Fadhil al-Azzawi , available for free on Banipal‘s website, deals with the dark themes of torture, imprisonment, and exile that have shaped his life – take a look at “Prisoner 907” on p. 23. Al-Azzawi’s Comedy of Ghosts is excerpted in this issue of Banipal, but I highly recommend checking out his poetry, too – here you’ll find beautiful, disturbing, and provocative accounts of Iraqi life.
Banipal‘s mission, according to editor Samuel Shimon, is to promote “literature that truly reflects in an honest and faithful way the developments in creative writing across the Arab world.” Issue 44 certainly achieves this goal. With its spectrum of writers – well-known and newly-acclaimed, young and old, male and female – Banipal creates a panorama of Arabic life, showcasing a multitude of countries, customs, and writers.