We Wrote in Symbols

We Wrote in Symbols: Love and Lust by Arab Women Writers

By Sulaiman Othman

Saqi book has celebrated female authors on a new book

We Wrote in Symbols celebrates the works of 75 of these female writers of Arab heritage who articulate love and lust with artistry and skill. Here, a wedding night takes an unexpected turn beneath a canopy of stars; a woman on the run meets her match in a reckless encounter at Dubai Airport; and a carnal awakening occurs in a Palestinian refugee camp. From a masked rendezvous in a circus, to meetings in underground bars and unmade beds, there is no such thing as a typical sexual encounter, as this electrifying anthology shows.

Select Contributors’ Bios

Hoda Barakat (b. 1952) is a Lebanese novelist currently living in France. Her work has received the most prestigious of literary awards, in the Arab world, France and internationally, including the Naguib Mahfouz prize in 2000 and the International Man Booker Prize for Arabic fiction in 2019.

Rita (Ghita) El Khayat is a novelist, poet and essayist from Morocco. In 2008 she was a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. She is the author of over thirty-six books including Le Liaison (The Affair), which was first published in 1994 under a pseudonym and was described as the first erotic novel by an Arab woman writer. Joumana Haddad is an award-winning Lebanese author, journalist and human rights activist. She was the cultural editor of An-Nahar newspaper for numerous years. She has been repeatedly selected as one of the world’s 100 most powerful Arab women by Arabian Business magazineIsabella Hammad lives between London and New York. Her first novel, The Parisian (Penguin Random House, 2019), won the 2019 Palestine Book Award and has been translated into fifteen languages. She has been awarded the 2020 Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Betty Trask Award, and was a 2019 National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Honouree.

Nathalie Handal is a poet and professor at Columbia University. Her books have won the Palestine Book Award, Virginia Faulkner Award for Excellence in Writing and the Arab American Book Award. Her writing has also appeared in Vanity FairGuernica MagazineThe Guardian, The New York Times, The Nation, The Irish Times and Words Without Borders.

Randa Jarrar is a writer, performer, professor of creative writing. Her works include A Map of Home (Penguin Group, reprint edition, 2009), Love Is an Ex-Country (Catapult, 2021) and Him, Me, Muhammad Ali (Sarabande Books, 2016). Her essays have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Salon, Bitch and BuzzfeedLisa Luxx is a poet, essayist, activist and Founder of The Sisterhood Salon, currently living in Beirut. She has appeared on channels including BBC Radio 4, VICE TV and ITV. She has

headlined literary events at the Royal Albert Hall and Latitude Festival. She was the winner of the Outspoken Prize for Performance Poetry 2018.

Sabrina Mahfouz is a writer and performer, raised in London and Cairo. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and resident writer at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Her non- fiction debut is These Bodies of Water (Tinder Press, 2022).

Yasmine Seale is a British-Syrian writer. Her work has appeared in Harper’s, TLS, Apollo and Poetry Review, amongst others. She was the winner of the 2020 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize for poetry. Her works include Aladdin (W. W. Norton, 2018) and she is currently working on a new translation of One Thousand and One Nights for the same publisher. Hanan al-Shaykh is a celebrated and award- winning novelist, playwright, journalist and storyteller from Lebanon, now living in London. Her books include I Sweep the Sun Off Rooftops (Bloomsbury, 2002), Women of Sand and Myrrh (Bloomsbury, 2010), Two One Thousand and One Nights (Bloomsbury, 2011) and The Occasional Virgin (Pantheon, 2018). Her work has been translated into twenty-one languages. In June 2019, al-Shaykh was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Naomi Shihab Nye is a Palestinian-American writer. She has written and edited 30+ books, including Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners (HarperCollins, 2018) and Tender Spot (Bloodaxe Books, 2015). She is the Young People’s Poet Laureate of the United States through the Poetry Foundation.

Leïla Slimani is a Franco-Moroccan writer and journalist. She was awarded the Prix Goncourt 2016. Her novels include Adèle and Lullaby (Faber & Faber), which has been translated into 40 langauges.

Ahdaf Soueif is a novelist, short story writer and political and cultural commentator. Born in Cairo, her novels include In the Eye of the Sun (Bloomsbury, 1992) and The Map of Love (Bloomsbury, 1999) which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction. She is the Founding Chair of the Palestine Festival of Literature (PalFest).


Selma Dabbagh is a British Palestinian writer of fiction whose debut novel Out of It (Bloomsbury) was a Guardian Book of the Year. Dabbagh’s BBC R4 play The Brick was nominated for the Imison Award, and her writing has been published in Granta and Wasafiri, and translated into several languages.