Cheuse Center produces Narrating the Middle East: The DC Arab Literature Festival with Middle East Institute

The Cheuse Center for International Writers partnered with the Middle East Institute (MEI) Arts and Culture Center and the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation to create a two-day virtual, literary festival Narrating The Middle East: The DC Arab Literature Festival.

“Literature offers audiences a chance to see the world through the eyes of others and the DC Arab Literature Festival is a window into the complex issues that writers in the Middle East are grappling with today,” said Kate Seelye,  Executive Vice President at the Middle East Institute.

This two-day festival featured leading Arab and diaspora writers, poets, publishers, and experts on the literature of the Middle East on May 17th—18th.  The festival convened panel conversations about new writing from and about the Arab world, the challenges of publishing and translating works from the Middle East and how to grow the Arab world’s literary infrastructure.

The festival, the first of its kind in the Washington D.C. area, opened with a keynote from the 2022 winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, Lebanese-American novelist Rabih Alameddine,  and concluded with an invite-only, in-person poetry reading at the Middle East Institute featuring DC-based Palestinian-American Zeina Azzam, recently named the Poet Laureate of the City of Alexandria, Virginia.

The featured speakers and panelists were Rasha Abbas, Isobelle Abulhol, Kareem James Abu Zeid, Rabih Alameddine, Nujoom Al-Ghanem, Zaina Arafat, Lana Barkawi, Zeina Hashem Beck, Matthew Davis, Lynn Gaspard, Nujoom al Ghannem, Nathalie Handal, Susan Harris, Lisette Jaquette, Yasmina Jraisati, Ursula Lindsey, Dunya Mikhail, Ahmed Naji, and Marcia Lynx Qualey.

“ The time I have spent in Syria and the rest of the Middle East has shaped my conceptions of the possibilities and importance of literature, narrative, and storytelling,” said Matthew Davis, Director of The Cheuse Center. “Writers from the Arab world face enormous challenges most American writers cannot conceive: Economic hardship, imprisonment, censorship, and confronting communal and national tragedies.”

Recordings of the panel discussions can be viewed below.


Introduction & Opening Remarks with Rabieh Alameddine

Featuring 2022 PEN/Faulkner Award Winner Rabieh Alameddine


Arab Fiction Now & The Challenges of Writing in and About the Region

Featuring Rasha Abbas, Syria-Germany, The Gist of It, Zaina Arafat, US-Palestine, You Exist Too Much, Ahmed Naji, Egypt, Using Life and Matthew Davis (Moderator), The Cheuse Center for International Writers


Modern Poetry in the Arab World

Featuring Nujoom Alghanem, Nahar Productions, Zeina Hashem Beck, Lebanon, O( forthcoming in July 2022), Dunya Mikhail, Iraq-US, In Her Feminine Sign
Nathalie Handal (Moderator), Palestine-USA-France poet, playwright, translator 


Growing a Literary Landscape

Featuring Isobel Abulhol, Trustee of The International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) and the Emirates Literature Foundation, Kareem Abu-Zeid, Translator, Editor, and Writer, Chris Merrill, Director, the International Writing Program, University of Iowa
and Elisabeth Jaquette, The American Literary Translators Association


Promoting Contemporary Arab Literature

Featuring Yasmina Jraissati, Founder, RAYA | agency for Arabic literature, Marcia Lynx Qualey , Editor, translator, critic and founder, 'ArabLit' website, Susan Harris, Editorial Director, Words Without Borders, Lana Barkawi, Mizna, and
Ursula Lindsey (Moderator), Journalist and book critic 


Closing Hybrid Event: Poetry Reading and Reception

Featuring Zeina Azzam. Palestinian-American poet, writer, and editor and Poet Laureate of the City of Alexandria, Virginia, and Mariam Gomaa, Physician and writer, Between the Shadow & the Soul


Produced in Partnership with

Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation Logo

Logo for the Middle East Institute Arts & Culture Center