About Arabic literature

In this collection of multiple essays on contemporary Arabic literary production, Marcia Lynx Qualey, founding editor of ArabLit, an online publication that focuses on Arabic literature translated into English, and ArabLit Quarterly, a print and e-magazine, explores seven trends and themes in contemporary Arabic literature, whether written by authors in the MENA region or in exile in Europe.

The following essays are about crime and detective novels, literary testimonials and biographies, historical novels, literature by authors living in Europe, poetry by women, books about love, sex and relationships, and children’s books.

Crime and detective novels

Lynx Qualey begins with crime/detective novels, a popular genre across the MENA region that began in the 19th century with translations from Europe, thrived in the mid-20th century with homegrown editions, then in the late 20th century often morphed into more complex tales where notions of justice and social criticism are present.

Literary testimonials and biographies

Literary testimonials and biographies are ever-present in Arabic non-fiction and today are being told in new and innovative ways, incorporating other genres as well as more intimate accounts that explore themes such as mental health or family life.

Historical novels

Historical novels have been a popular genre for the past century and more recently have branched out to encompass historical allegory, historical fantasy, magical realist histories, alternate histories, feminist histories, and the re-examining of key historical moments.

Arabic literature written from Europe

Arabic literature written by authors living in Europe following waves of migrations beginning in the 1960s has resulted in new forms of literature with some authors working between Arabic and European languages and recounting not only former lives, but a European present.

Women poets writing in Arabic

While classical Arabic poetry and contemporary poets such as Adonis or Mahmoud Darwish may be familiar to some; new, exciting voices, many of them women’s, have yet to be translated. Lynx Qualey offers an overview of the next generation of prose poets and a list of “remarkable collections” by women poets writing in Arabic.

Love, sex, and relationships

This essay is on books that focus on love, sex, and relationships. Classical Arabic writing about sex and relationships is remarkably uninhibited and includes queer romance, while in the 20th century novels about sex, and in particular women’s sexuality were heavily censored. In 21st century fresh new stories are being written that freely examine love, sexuality, and relationships from all angles.

Arabic children’s literature

Children’s literature has seen an exciting and rapid rise over the past 20 years moving away from a more pedantic style to books with a focus on humour and pleasure, with a notable increase in high-quality illustrations. Twenty-five children’s books are recommended at the end of the essay as well as a list of publishers.