Henry Ace Knight interviews Marcia Lynx Qualey, “a household name among students and aficionados of Arabic and Middle Eastern literature, many of whom avidly read her blog ArabLit.org.” There’s lots of interesting stuff there, for instance:
You wrote about the false claim of the emerging Arabic novel, and the distinction of “first Arabic novel” given to Muhammad Husayn Haykal’s Zaynab, in a recent post for Arab Lit. Could you talk a little more about that? Why is Zaynab frequently considered the first Arabic novel, and why is that problematic?
The idea of the “emergence of the Arabic novel” irks me, as if Arabs started writing in a meaningful way when they started writing European-style novels. Instead, I like to view aspects of the European novel as being folded—incorporated, absorbed—into a very long Arabic narrative tradition. I find the “first-novelling” [of Zaynab] problematic because this—like other “first” tropes—is posited as a point of arrival (“first woman —,” “first Black —”). In this case, it’s as though in order to be real modernites, Arabs have to write in a form pioneered by Daniel Defoe. Except DeFoe was probably influenced by Ibn Tufail (twelfth century). So. Also descriptively, I just think it works better to view the Arabic literary tradition not as having a death and rebirth-as-novel, but as having a continuous tradition wherein elements of the European novel are enthusiastically incorporated, toyed with, reimagined.
And this depressing passage was highlighted by Helen DeWitt at Paperpools, where I got the link; Qualey has been asked about “the movement towards writing in a regional dialect, rather than in Modern Standard Arabic”:
[Children’s literature] is a thorny issue. Some authors want to write picture books in spoken dialect—and some have, like Sonia Nimr—but publishers tend to be very opposed, as they want to be able to sell into multiple markets and submit to prizes. Unfortunately, this even goes for dialogue. I loved Rania Amin’s Screams Behind Doors, which won the Etisalat Prize for best YA novel last November, but it felt weird to have these girls speaking to each other in Modern Standard Arabic. Rania told me she’d written the dialogue in Egyptian, but the publisher “fixed” it, worried they couldn’t otherwise submit to prizes and suchlike. A bit galling.