Narrating the Middle East: the DC Arab Literature Festival

Tuesday, May 17 and Wednesday, May 18
Panels to be held on Zoom

Register Here

Don’t miss your last chance to register for Narrating the Middle East: the DC Arab Literature Festival, presented by the Middle East Institute’s Arts and Culture Center (MEI) and the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation (ADMAF) in partnership with the Cheuse Center for International Writers at George Mason University.

The two-day virtual literary festival from Tuesday, May 17 to Wednesday, May 18 features leading and emerging Arab and diaspora novelists and poets, as well as publishers, translators and more in conversation about the realities of writing in and about the Middle East, the challenges of publishing and translating, and how to nurture both writers and readers in the Arab world.

The first festival of its kind in Washington, DC, Narrating the Middle East shines a light on writers and poets and the institutions and infrastructures supporting literary production in and about the Arab world.

Featured Panelist: Ahmed Naji is a writer, journalist and art critic. He is the author of three novels: Rogers (2007), Using Life (2017), And Tigers to my Room (2020), as well as of the non-fiction book (Rotten Evidence: Reading and writing in prison)–English translation to be published by McSweeney’s in 2023.

In 2016, Ahmed was sentenced to 2 years in prison after a reader complained that an excerpt from Using Life published in a literary journal harmed public morality. He is now a fellow at Black Mountain Institute and lives in Las Vegas, where he resides with his small family.

Agenda for May 17

10:15 am – 10:40 am

Opening Keynote Remarks:

Rabih Alameddine

Alameddine is the author of six critically acclaimed novels, most recently The Wrong End of the Telescope (Grove Atlantic, 2021) which was selected as the winner of the 2022 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

10:45 am – 12:00 pm

Arab Fiction Now & The Challenges of Writing in & About the Region

This panel of leading regional and diaspora authors will discuss the inspiration for their most recent novels and the social, cultural and political context informing their work. The panel will also explore the challenges that Arab writers in the region and its diaspora face as they reflect on societies dealing with globalization, trauma, gender, sexuality and identity.


Ahmed Naji
Egypt, Author, Using Life (2017)

Zaina Arafat
Palestine-US, Author, You Exist Too Much (2021 Lambda Literary Award)

Rasha Abbas
Syria-Germany, Author, The Gist of It (2019)

Matthew Davis (moderator)
Founding director, the Cheuse International Writers Center at George Mason University, Assistant Professor Creative Writing George Mason University

12:30-2 pm Modern Poetry in the Arab World

This panel features Arab poets who will share their poems in English and the vision that drives their inspiration.


Nujoom al Ghannem
UAE, Author, Asqoto fi Nafsi (I Fall into Myself) (2012)

Zeina Hashem Beck
“O” poetry collection (Forthcoming July 2022)

Dunya Mikhail
Iraq-US, Author, In Her Feminine Sign (2019)

Nathalie Handal (moderator)
Palestine-USA-France, Poet, playwright, and translator

Agenda for May 18

10:00am – 11:30 am
Growing a Literary Landscape
This panel brings together voices from the Arab world’s publishing and translation sectors, as well as leading figures behind literary prizes and book fairs, to discuss how to grow the Arab World’s literary infrastructure and audiences.

Lynn Gaspard
Publisher, Middle-East specialist press Saqi Books, London

Kareem James Abu Zeid
Translator, editor, and writer, The Poetics of Adonis and Yves Bonnefoy: Poetry as Spiritual Practice (2021)Isobel Abulhoul
Trustee, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF); trustee, the Emirates Literature Foundation; founding director, Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

Chris Merrill
Director, the International Writing Program, University of Iowa

Lisette Jaquette (moderator)
Executive director, the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA)

12:00 pm – 1:15 pm
Promoting Contemporary Arab Literature
The panel will look at platforms that have been instrumental in supporting contemporary writing from and about the Middle East and North Africa and the role they have in opening new and different conversations about the Middle East from the lens of literature.

Yasmina Jraisati
Founder, RAYA | agency for Arabic literature

Susan Harris
Editorial director, Words Without Borders

Marcia Lynx Qualey
Editor, translator, and critic; founder, ArabLit website; co-host, BULAQ podcast

Lana Barkawi
Executive and Artistic Director of Mizna; publisher of the award-winning journal, Mizna: SWANT Lit + Art.

Ursula Lindsey (moderator)
Journalist and book critic

4:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Closing Hybrid Event: Poetry Reading and Reception
An in-person (by invitation only) and live streamed event held at the Middle East Institute, featuring poetry readings by Zeina Azzam, Poet Laureate of the City of Alexandria, Virginia, and Mariam Gomaa, physician and writer based in Washington, DC