“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!