Sample Lesson Plan for World Literature: Arabic Literature in Translation

World Literature: Arabic Literature in Translation

Using Issue 11: Tajdeed

Adapted from Marilyn Sides, Senior Lecturer and Director of Creative Writing, in the Department of English and Creative Writing, Wellesley College

1) Read: Mohammed Rabie’s “Burdens,” Muhammad Khudayyir’s “The Hush Void,” and Mahmoud al-Rahabi’s “The Passing Carts,” as well as the “Contributor Notes” for these authors and their translators.

Consider/Discuss:

  • What is each story about?
  • What is particular about the style of each piece?
  • What do these stories have in common? Consider themes (e.g., religion), style (e.g., allegory or parable), types of characters, settings, etc.
  • Which one do you like the most and why? (The category of “like” is always complex: this could mean the story’s content, language, and/or tone please you, intrigue you, demand your attention or admiration, or…)

For further exploration: Read the following accounts of the relationship of world literature and the role of translation, and briefly outline or list the main “story” each tells (you can note similarities and differences).

Write: One paragraph about the story from Issue 11 that you “like” most, explaining what you find particularly engaging, pleasing, challenging etc., about this story.


2) Read: The Issue 11 introductory essays by Youssef Rakha, “A Thousand and One Pebbles” and M. Lynx Qualey, “A Space for Dreaming,” as well as Rasha Abbas’ “Statement of Absolute Hatred,” Basma al-Nsour’s “Disappointments (and a Few Clarifications),” and Zakaria Tamer’s “Five Stories.” Also review the “Contributor Notes” for these authors and their translators.

For further exploration:

Consider/Discuss: In reading the background on Arabic literature, as well as the introductions to Issue 11, try to articulate:

  • What is classical Arabic? Modern Arabic? What has been the tension between poetry and fiction in the Arabic literary tradition?
  • How has Arabic fiction, in particular, reacted to the influx of Western (European and US) fiction from the 19th century up until the present?
  • Why is there “a lack of Western interest in Arabic literature” according to Rakha? How does Qualey characterize this issue of The Common as a response to that “lack”?

Write:  Pick one of the stories from Issue 11 and write a paragraph about how you come to read it in the context of the background readings.


3) Read: In Issue 11, read Mona Merhi’s “Haphazardia” and Malika Moustadraf’s “Just Different,” as well as the authors’ bios and those of the translators in “Contributor’s Notes.”

For further exploration:

Consider/Discuss:

  • Think back to the works of the women authors you’ve read in Issue 11, in light of the “Arab Women Writers” essay—how do they seem a continuation of this history?
  • Connect the Bustani and Alter essays to the stories you’ve read; what forces are driving “new”/contemporary Arabic writing? How can we reflect on them individually and together?
  • Thinking about the essays by Merhi, Bustani, and Alter, how do the realities of political and religious censorship inflect almost all the stories we’ve read?

Write: one page comparing how these stories and the other stories in the issue highlight themes related to boundary crossings and national, cultural, and gender identities.


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