Leila Baalbaki

Leila Baalbaki


ليلى بعلبكي

Leila Baalbaki was a feminist Lebanese author. Despite a short writing career that lasted less than ten years, Baalbaki was known for introducing feminist and existentialist themes to Lebanese literature, and for her pioneering literary depiction of women’s sexuality. 

Born in 1936 to a Shi’ite family, Baalbaki studied literature at the University of Saint Joseph and then worked for the Lebanese Parliament for several years. She moved to Paris between 1959 and 1961 on a scholarship and discovered existentialism in Parisian cafés, where she became known as ‘Lebanon’s Françoise Sagan’. Baalbaki’s debut novel  أنا أحيا (I Live), published in 1958 when she was 22, brought her international fame in the Arab world and beyond. This provocative work openly focusing on women’s liberation and emancipation has since been labelled as ‘generation-defining’ in Lebanon and the wider Arab world. Another novel,  الإلهة الممسوخة  The Monster Gods followed in 1960. In 1963, Baalbaki published her final work – a short story collection entitled  سفينة حنان إلى القمر  A Spaceship of Tenderness to the Moon that brought Baalbaki and her publisher to trial. The collection, considered ‘erotic’ by the Lebanese authorities of the time, was banned. Although she and her publisher were acquitted, Baalbaki stopped writing after the trial. She pursued her career as a journalist, working for Al-Hawadith, Al-dustur and Al-nahar, among other media. Baalbaki lived between Lebanon and the United Kingdom from 1975 until her death in London in October 2023.

© Personal archives
Date of birth : 1936
Date of death: 2023
Country of birth: Lebanon
Country of residence: Lebanon & United Kingdom
Publisher(s): Dar Al Adab

Selected bibliography

  • سفينة حنان إلى القمر, A Spaceship of Tenderness to the Moon*, Dar El-Ilm Lil-malayin, Lebanon, 1963; Dar Al Adab, Lebanon, 2010. English translations: excerpt in The Penguin Book of Erotic Stories by Women, R. G. Jones & A. Susan Williams, United Kingdom, 1997, trans. by Denys Johnson-Davies; excerpt available freely online, Arablit.org, August 2018, trans. by Maia Tabet; excerpt in the Fall 2020 issue of ArabLit Quarterly, trans. by Tom Abi Samra
  • الإلهة الممسوخة, The Monster Gods*, 1960; Dar Al Adab, Lebanon, 2009
  • أنا أحيا, I Live*, Majallat Chi’r, Lebanon, 1958; Dar Al Adab, Lebanon, 2010. French translation: Je vis!, Seuil, France, 1958, trans. by Michel Barbot. German translation: Ich lebe, Lenos, Swiss, 1994, trans. by Laila Chammaa

*Working title


“We Kindled the Fire and it Enkindled Us:” Three Poetic Articles by Leila Baalbaki by Kohl Journal, Anticolonial Feminist Imaginaries, Winter 2023

Leila Baalbaki, l’émancipation faite femme (in French) by L’Orient Littéraire, 2010

Leila Baalbaki : La rebelion en voz de mujer (in Spanish) by Tonos Digital, 1998 (academic article)

A literary Letter From Lebanon by The New York Times, September 1964

Prizes and awards

  • أنا أحيا (I Live) ranked 55th in Banipal’s list of the 100 best Arabic novels (published in 2018)

Book(s) featured on this site

Reviewed by Clara Défachel