Librarians Can Change The World

October 13, 2010 Christine Olsen 6 Comments

When I first met with Diane d’Almeida, mild mannered Boston University librarian, I had no idea of her worldly travels or eye opening adventures. She just had so many stories to share.

“There are Arab women writers?” I asked. I didn’t know that was acceptable behavior over there. But in Diane’s journey to Jordan, she met and interviewed seven female authors. All of them were strong willed, most had been displaced from their homes, and all of them were extremely grateful for the opportunity to be heard. Diane wanted to bring students like me out of our ignorance and gave several Arab women writers the chance to speak to a Western audience about their work.

“Initially, I began this project because I felt my knowledge of Arabic culture and literature was lacking. But talking to these women helped me to realize how similar they are to us in many ways. It was an amazing chapter in my life that I don’t think could ever be recreated.

“I got to learn about their daily lives and family. These women discussed with me what inspired them to write, what audience they hoped to reach, and how they viewed the impact of literature on the world. I cannot sum up their responses in a sentence, because each woman was as complex and unique as the stories they had written. I remember one author telling me how useless religion was in her life, but that her sister is a devout Muslim. It was interesting to see how different ideologies there could be, even in the same household.

“I wanted to stay away from political issues in my interviews and really focus on their writing but half of them were deeply influenced by the conflicts…Some of these women started as journalists. They were not afraid to share their strong feelings and received the reputation of being candid, feminist speakers. Those who voiced their opinions through demonstrations faced the danger of being arrested. For these women, writing gave them the opportunity to speak up in a safer setting.

“One of the most interesting questions I asked them was whether they believe literature can change the world. Of course I think so, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this. I was surprised by their wide range of answers. Some believed writing truly can make a difference and seemed to feel a sense of purpose and pride through their work. Others stated that if you can influence one or two people, you have done enough. Others were adamant in the belief that writing doesn’t make a difference to the world but that writing for themselves gives them strength.

“For me, this trip was truly a strengthening experience. I think it has helped me achieve one goal in my life which is to make a teensy, ever so small, difference in the world. I realize that as one human being, I cannot do much – but my being able to promote some of these women has meant a lot to me.
I feel somewhat fulfilled, and I want to go further into this! I think I managed to shake up a bit of Mugar Library by going on this extended trip and I’m pleased I could do that. I have seen these interviews open the eyes of colleagues, friends, and my children. People realize that in fact, there are women from the Arab world who write – and who have something real to say about life. I myself am reading more of this writing from the Middle East, and my antennae are alerted whenever one of these women writes or is written about.

To see Diane’s interviews, click here and scroll down to Jordan. You can watch interviews with four different writers!


Author: Christine Olsen
Hello! My name is Christine. I’m from Westchester, NY but I spend all my free time in NYC. I’m a senior majoring in Elementary Education. After I graduate I have every intention of moving back to the city and hopefully will be teaching underprivileged kids there. I try to never miss out on an opportunity, because you never know what you might be passing up. That’s how I’ve ended up having countless random adventures in both Boston and New York, one of the best being the trapeze lessons I took with a bunch of friends just outside Boston. I love meeting new and interesting people and sharing experiences with them. You’d be surprised what you’ll learn about someone if you’re just willing to listen. Everybody you meet has a story worth telling…

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6 Comments → “Librarians Can Change The World”

  1. Jeanz 3 years ago   Reply

    This is so cool! Your entry reminded me of the book “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” about a professor in Iran who started an underground book club for women who weren’t allowed to read western literature. You should check it out!

  2. Hawley Bigelow 2 years ago   Reply

    Wow, that article was superb. I am now reading alot of books written by Arabs. Where can I find a list or more information. I am very excited!

    • Hawley Bigelow 2 years ago   Reply

      Wow, that article was superb. What a unique experience Ms. D’Almeida had. Have to get a list of the writers she interviewed. Thank you for your on-the-spot interviews.

    • Mary 2 years ago   Reply

      We are also very excited by Diane’s work. Did you see her guide to Arab Women Writers at http://www.bu.edu/library/guides/caww/index.html? She includes links to the interviews she filmed.

    • Diane d'Almeida 2 years ago   Reply

      Dear Ms. Bigelow,
      I am pleased you enjoyed the website. Yes, these women write wonderful stories — they excel in smaller prose pieces than in larger novels. If you look at the website, you can see some of their works that have been published, in English. Translations are also extremely important. Thanks! for writing your comments. Diane d’Almeida

  3. Tina Currens Reinhardt 2 years ago   Reply

    Isn’t it thrilling to know that where there is a strong will, anything can happen, and does! Diane is to be congratulated for her interest in this area, for pursuing that interest, and for being brave to do this alone!
    My husband and I, fairly recently, were guests of a minister of the Saudi government. I was amazed to see close to what Diane saw (although Saudi Arabia is pretty rigid)……women who had businesses of their own or who were doing something we Westerners would never believe possible. It restores one’s faith in the strength of humanity.
    Right on, Diane!!!!!

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