Literatures of Annihilation, Exile & Resistance: Poetics of Evidence (Sonallah Ibrahim in conversation with Ammiel Alcalay)


Location: Zoom Webinar

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Poet, novelist, translator, critic, and scholar Ammiel Alcalay teaches at Queens College and The Graduate Center, CUNY. His books include After Jews and Arabs, Memories of Our Future, Islanders, neither wit nor gold: from then, from the warring factions, and a little history. Recent books include the co-edited A Dove in Flight: Poems by Faraj Bayrakdar, with Shareah Taleghani and the New York Translation Collective; a poem sequence, Ghost Talk, and A Bibliography for After Jews & Arabs. He has written and been active on the question of Palestine for decades and, during the wars in ex-Yugoslavia, he was one of the main conduits for translations from Bosnia. He is a contributing editor of The Markaz Review and was given a 2017 American Book Award from The Before Columbus Foundation for his work as founder and General Editor of Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative (

Sonallah Ibrahim was born in Cairo in 1937. Involved in political activities as a student, he was sentenced to 7 years of imprisonment in 1959. He has been a full-time writer since 1976.  He studied law at the University of Cairo and cinematography at Moscow film institute.  His first novel ” the smell of it” in 1966 was censored in Egypt but republished in Beirut several times.  Only in 1986, the complete version appeared in Cairo, Khartoum, and Casablanca simultaneously. It has been translated into 11 languages.

Corruption, exploitation, ever-increasing American influence, the Lebanese civil war, and the revolutionary experience of Zofar in Oman between 1965and 1975, the Israeli expansionist policy, and the multinationals are among the themes of his novels.  Additionally, he writes ecological novels for young people, has been a visiting professor at the French University of Bordeaux and the American one at Berkeley.  He has been described as “ somewhere between a political activist and a writer of inventiveness, experimentation, and mastery of different kinds of tone-light –hearted mockery, irony, satire and tragedy.”

In 2003 he was awarded the Egyptian state prize for Arab novel. He rejected it in public and used the event to deplore the policy of dependence and corruption followed by the Egyptian regime.  In 2010 his novel Zaat was turned into a successful TV production. Another novel, sharaf, is now under preparation as a co-production film (French, German, Egyptian) by the director Samir Nasr.  The novel Al Lagna was translated into French, Swedish, English, Russian, Italian and other languages. It ran into its tenth edition in Arabic.   In 2019 he got Mahmoud Darweesh literary prize.

This conversation will be moderated by Hana Morgenstern, University Lecturer in Postcolonial and Middle East Literature at Cambridge University and a Fellow at Newnham College.  

Dr. Hana Morgenstern is a scholar, writer and translator. She is University Lecturer in Postcolonial and Middle East Literature at Cambridge University and a Fellow at Newnham College. Dr Morgenstern is co-director of the Documents of the Arab Left and the Revolutionary Papers projects and co-convener of the Archives of the Disappeared seminar. She is currently at work on a book manuscript titled, Literary Infiltrators: Anticolonial Collaboration in Palestine/Israel. 

This event is co-sponsored by the Markaz Review and the Archives of the Disappeared Research Seminar, University of Cambridge.

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