The writers participating in the Writing Sabbaticals 2023, following the open call launched in December 2022, were selected from 145 applications from the Arab world, through an advisory committee comprised of Dalia Taha (poet & writer, Palestine), Fatima Zohra Rghioui (writer, Morocco), and Mona Kareem (poet, Kuwait/USA).

The writers are:

Amer Altaeeb (b. 1990, Iraq) for his poetry collection Last Tuesday’s Poems of Every Year, whereby the poet writes about his life every Tuesday, taking his day of birth for his starting point. Through this collection, Amir reflects on mundane events and renders them into metaphoric births, creating as such a world that parallels the world we live in.

Hosameeldine Elthani (b. 1984, Libya) for his novella Habeeb, where he renders a Libyan epic story about an ancient civil and proxy war into a contemporary story on Libya. The novella mixes oral and epic traditions – as told by a number of different voices, including women, children, and horses.

Manar Moursi (b. 1983, Kuwait) for her creative essay “The Loudspeaker and the Tower”, where she guides the reader on a journey on Cairo’s ring road and other roads following the Nile north and south of Cairo. Along the way, new housing projects in the desert, mosques built illegally on agricultural land, and the soundscapes of the city, as well as ghosts from her past are brought to life. Manar, who spent three years recording interviews with the people who live and work in mosques on the outskirts of Cairo, weaves these voices together with a personal narrative that mirrors her circular voyage along the ring road.

Nuha Nasser (b. 1981, Yemen) for her novel Dyna Truck, which addresses sectarianism in between Southern and Northern Yemen. It traces the different ideologies there and how they create a sense of entitlement among individuals of the same community, as they create fissures in a society’s demographics.

Ranwa Alamsi (b. 1985, Bahrain) for her novel AZC Amsterdam, which tackles life in a liminal space: a refugee camp. It traces the transitional state of living in between the homeland and the diaspora, psychological transformation, and human intermingling in a space whose inhabitants tend to portray as temporary, though it could, in fact, last a lifetime.

Suhair Al Samman (b. 1984, Yemen) for her novel Checkpoints (working title), which tells the story of a woman trying to bring back her husband’s body to his hometown in a warring world. In her narration, the woman contemplates love and her relationship with her husband in a violently and fast-changing world. Suhair intertwines the character’s internal voice, questions, and experiences with her description of the political and social world in which she lives.

Valérie Cachard (b. 1979, Lebanon) for her novel Rouge ibis, where personal and collective narration intersect. The novel explores the Lebanese migrant community in French Guinea between 1890 and 2021, among a myriad intersecting topics, including migration, patriarchal communities, women’s agency, communal living, faith, money, language, nature, the old and the new worlds, colonialism, geographic disproportions, and occupying spaces.

Wagas Elsadig (b. 1993, Sudan) for his novel, Bag Theft Days. Told in magical realism, the novel traces the urbanization of a village by the Nile in Sudan’s countryside. Through his writing, Wagas addresses Sufi lifestyles, migration, and movement, as well as the river-desert binary in rural life.

The advisory committee for 2023 was made up of:

Dalia Taha is a writer and poet based in Ramallah. She has a poetry collection published with Al Ahliya publishing house, and is currently working on two books: Writing is Dangerous (a collection of articles) and Come now, Terror (a poetry collection). Dalia is also a stage writer, and her plays were shown at the Royal Theatre in London and the Royal Flemish Theatre in Brussels. They have also been performed in the United States and  Palestine. She teaches at Bir Zeit University.

Fatima Zohra Rghioui is a Moroccan writer and researcher, specialized in novels and women studies.

Mona Kareem is a stateless poet born in Kuwait and resides in the United States. She is the author of three poetry collections, and the 2023 chapbook I Will Not Fold These Maps, translated by Sara Elkamel and published by Poetry Translation Center in London. She is a recipient of a 2021 literary grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Mona has held fellowships and residencies with Princeton University, Tufts University, Brandeis University, Poetry International, the Arab-American National Museum, Norwich Center, Bard College, and Forum Transregionale Studien. Her work has been translated into nine languages. She holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the State University of New York at Binghamton. Her translations include Ashraf Fayadh’s Instructions Within (nominated for a BTBA award), Ra’ad Abdulqadir’s Except for this Unseen Thread, and Octavia Butler’s Kindred.

The peer for the Writings Sabbaticals 2023 was Iman Mersal, an Egyptian writer, translator and literary scholar. A professor of Arabic language and literature at the University of Alberta, she is the author of five books of Arabic poetry. In English translation, her poems have appeared in The New Republic, The New York Review of BooksParnassus, The Paris Review, and The Nation, among others. The Threshold, translated by Robyn Creswell and published in 2022, was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and won the 2023 National Translation Award. Iman received the 2021 Sheikh Zayed Book Award in Literature for her creative nonfiction book, Traces of Enayat. The New York Public Library’s Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers has named Iman among its 2024 – 2025 Fellows.

The 2023 Writing Sabbaticals is partially supported by the Flemish Authorities and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.