Author of the Month
Illustration by Maira Asaad
Nawal El Saadawi was an Egyptian public health physician, psychiatrist, author, and advocate of women’s rights. Sometimes described as “the Simone de Beauvoir of the Arab world,” El Saadawi was a feminist whose writings and professional career were dedicated to political and sexual rights for women.
El Saadawi’s novels, short stories, and nonfiction deal chiefly with the status of Arab women, as in Mudhakkirāt ṭabībah (1960; Memoirs of a Woman Doctor), Al-Khayt wa al-jidār (1972; The Thread and the Wall), Al-Ḥubb fī zaman al-nafṭ (1993; Love in the Kingdom of Oil), and Al-Riwāyah (2004; The Novel). The oppression of women by men through religion is the underlying theme of El Saadawi’s novel set in a mental institution, Jannāt wa Iblīs (1992; Jannāt and Iblīs). The female protagonists are Jannāt, whose name is the plural of the Arabic word for paradise, and Iblīs, whose name refers to the Devil.
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Illustration by Emil Hasnain
Elif Shafak is an award-winning British-Turkish novelist. She writes in both Turkish and English, and has published 18 books, 11 of which are novels. Her work has been translated into 55 languages. Her latest novel 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and RSL Ondaatje Prize; and chosen Blackwell’s Book of the Year. Her previous novel, The Forty Rules of Love was chosen by BBC among 100 Novels that Shaped Our World. Shafak holds a PhD in political science and she has taught at various universities in Turkey, the US and the UK, including St Anne's College, Oxford University, where she is an honorary fellow.
Shafak is a Fellow and a Vice President of the Royal Society of Literature. She is a member of Weforum Global Agenda Council on Creative Economy and a founding member of ECFR (European Council on Foreign Relations). An advocate for women's rights, LGBTQ+ rights and freedom of speech, Shafak is an inspiring public speaker and twice TED Global speaker. Shafak contributes to major publications around the world and she was awarded the medal of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In 2017 she was chosen by Politico as one of the twelve people “who will give you a much needed lift of the heart”. Shafak has judged numerous literary prizes, and chaired the Wellcome Prize and is presently judging the PEN Nabokov Prize.
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He lives in Lahore with his family.
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Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges exerted a strong influence on the direction of literary fiction through his genre-bending metafictions, essays, and poetry. Borges was a founder, and principal practitioner, of postmodernist literature, a movement in which literature distances itself from life situations in favor of reflection on the creative process and critical self-examination. Widely read and profoundly erudite, Borges was a polymath who could discourse on the great literature of Europe and America and who assisted his translators as they brought his work into different languages. He was influenced by the work of such fantasists as Edgar Allan Poe and Franz Kafka, but his own fiction "combines literary and extraliterary genres in order to create a dynamic, electric genre," to quote Alberto Julián Pérez in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Pérez also noted that Borges's work "constitutes, through his extreme linguistic conscience and a formal synthesis capable of representing the most varied ideas, an instance of supreme development in and renovation of narrative techniques. With his exemplary literary advances and the reflective sharpness of his metaliterature, he has effectively influenced the destiny of literature."
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Roxane Gay is a novelist and short story writer. Her writing appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. She is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. She is the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Times bestselling Bad Feminist, the nationally bestselling Difficult Women and the New York Times bestselling Hunger. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel.
She teaches English at Purdue University.
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Clarice Lispector, (born December 10, 1920, Chechelnyk, Ukraine, Russian Empire—died December 9, 1977, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), novelist and short-story writer, one of Brazil’s most important literary figures, who is considered to be among the greatest women writers of the 20th century.
Escaping the Jewish pogroms that were part of life in Ukraine and other parts of the Russian Empire in the late 19th–early 20th century, Lispector at age five immigrated with her parents and two older sisters to Brazil. There her mother died some four years later of syphilis, contracted from a group of Russian soldiers who had raped her. Lispector studied law for a time and then took up journalism.
Lispector’s finest prose is found in her short stories. Collections such as Laços de família (1960; Family Ties) and A legião estrangeira (1964; The Foreign Legion) focus on personal moments of revelation in the everyday lives of the protagonists and the lack of meaningful communication among individuals in a contemporary urban setting. English translations of her stories were collected as The Complete Stories (2015).
Lispector achieved international fame with works that depict a highly personal, almost existentialist view of the human dilemma and are written in a prose style characterized by a simple vocabulary and elliptical sentence structure. She is notoriously difficult to translate. In contrast to the regional or national social concerns expressed by many of her Brazilian contemporaries, her artistic vision transcends time and place; her characters, in elemental situations of crisis, are frequently female and only incidentally modern or Brazilian.
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Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto, Japan, in 1949. He grew up in Kobe and then moved to Tokyo, where he attended Waseda University. After college, Murakami opened a small jazz bar, which he and his wife ran for seven years.
His first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, won the Gunzou Literature Prize for budding writers in 1979. He followed this success with two sequels, Pinball, 1973 and A Wild Sheep Chase, which all together form “The Trilogy of the Rat.”
Murakami is also the author of the novels Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World; Norwegian Wood; Dance Dance Dance; South of the Border, West of the Sun; The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle; Sputnik Sweetheart; Kafka on the Shore; After Dark; 1Q84; and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. He has written three short story collections: The Elephant Vanishes; After the Quake; and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman; and an illustrated novella, The Strange Library.
Additionally, Murakami has written several works of nonfiction. After the Hanshin earthquake and the Tokyo subway sarin gas attack in 1995, he interviewed surviving victims, as well as members of the religious cult responsible. From these interviews, he published two nonfiction books in Japan, which were selectively combined to form Underground. He also wrote a series of personal essays on running, entitled What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
The most recent of his many international literary honors is the Jerusalem Prize, whose previous recipients include J. M. Coetzee, Milan Kundera, and V. S. Naipaul. Murakami’s work has been translated into more than fifty languages.
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Michel Foucault, born on October 15, 1926 in Poitiers, France was a French philosopher and historian, one of the most influential and controversial scholars of the post-World War II period. He died of AIDS on June 25, 1984 in Paris.
Foucault was critical of certain philosophical ruminations which he felt were too straightforward questions, and was equally critical of their responses as well. Naturally, his way of thinking was different from his predecessors. His views on power and knowledge and the way they socially control societal institutions, particularly the bourgeois state (including its police, doctors, psychiatrists), along with his work on sexuality deemed him as a "postmodernist", although he disliked the label. He equally disliked being labeled a "homosexual" for being gay.
Much of Foucault's criticism of the bourgeois state perhaps also came from his own family background. His father was an elite surgeon, and upon seeing his son's suicidal tendencies, sent Foucault to a renowned psychiatrist when he was 22. His psychiatrist had determined his stress primarily stemmed from him having to repress his sexuality in a largely heteronormative and censorious society. Consequently, Foucault followed the underground gay movement which had allowed him to express himself more freely.
After reading Nietzche's "The Uses and Abuses of the History of Life", Foucault began to think more the role of history as an archive to offer ideas and insight to help improve the present time. In his writings he criticized the bourgeois state and its institutions such as police, prison, medicine, and psychiatry along with how "modernity" affected sexuality.
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Jeff Vandermeer is easily regarded as one of the best fantasists. He grew up in the Fiji Islands and traveled through Asia, Africa and Europe before returning to the USA. It was these travels that deeply influenced Vandermeer's fiction writing. Jeff VanderMeer - called "the weird Thoreau" by the New Yorker - is the 2016-2017 Trias Writer-in-Residence for Hobart-William Smith College. His Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance) has won the Shirley Jackson Award and Nebula Award and made it to over 30 best book lists. Three-time World Fantasy Award winner, VanderMeer is the co-director of Shared Worlds, a unique teen science-fiction/fantasy writing camp located at Wofford College. He is also the recipient of an NEA-funded Florida Individual Artist Fellowship for excellence in fiction and a Florida Artist Enhancement Grant. He lives with his wife Ann and their two cats Tallahassee, Florida.