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Everything you need to know about the world's great writers and emerging voices is being collected and shared on the English PEN Online World Atlas. Head over to the Atlas to create (or edit) a profile for your favourite author or book, leave a comment or contact another user, and discover your next great read. We believe that great writing has the power to change your life and change the world, one book at a time.

The Atlas is proud to be partnering with the Hay Festival's Beirut39 contest, celebrating Beirut's year as UNESCO World Book Capital, to find the hottest authors under 40 of Arabic origin. Nominations are open until August 24th, 2009.

Monday, September 22, 2008

We're Here, We're Queer, We're Writing Proud

Nash Suleiman at Global Voices Online has a great round-up of voices on homosexuality in Lebanon and the Arabic-speaking world. Suleiman draws attention to the Lebanese organisation Helem, but there are other groups, such as ASWAT, the organisation for Palestinian gay women, which has just published its first book -- you can read some the poems by members here. There have been a number of interesting books addressing this question, including Mai Ghoussoub's Imagined Masculinities, Brian Whitaker's Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East, and Jarrod Hayes' Queer Nations: Marginal Sexualities in the Maghreb. Lebanese-Jordanian novelist and artist, Rabih Alameddine, now resident in the US, has written sensitively and sharply about the travails of being a gay man in the Arabic world, and an Arabic gay man in the US. Palestinian-Canadian poet Trish Salah has re-invented the ghazal form to explore her trans identity.

But, as Peter Cole and Maria Menocal among others have pointed out, there is a long heritage of male-identified love poetry by male writers in the Arabic lyric tradition. In an article on Arabic writers for the Guardian by Ahdaf Soueif, Alaa al-Aswany cites
Abu Nuwas, a gay poet who lived 1,000 years ago, is one of our greatest poets, yet he hasn't been translated, which adds to the assumption that Arab culture is homophobic
. Hala Halim of NYU mentions
Lebanese novelist Rashid al-Daif's 2006 Awdat al-Almani ila Rushdihi (The German Comes to His Senses) is a fictionalised memoir about the author's collaboration with a gay German writer, Joachim Helfer, through the East-West Divan exchange programme. Setting aside the controversy over the strategy adopted by the German writer in his published response, Al-Daif's memoir is to be lauded for the candour with which it reflects critically on homophobia in the Arab world.

Dar al Saqi published The Others, a novel by Siba Harez (a pseudonym to protect the author) that explores the life of a young lesbian in Saudi Arabia, which will be published in English by Telegram this year. As Suleiman points out while
the presence of homosexuality can be spotted in every country in the region, governments and societies are still intolerant to such life style.
Fiction and poetry have a substantial role to play in changing both grassroots and government opinions -- after all, only ten years ago it was illegal for teachers to talk about queer issues in schools in the UK.

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