Course Description 

This course is a survey of the most important moments in the development of Modern Arabic Literature from the end of 19th century to the present. We will map the developments, achievements, and innovations by Arab writers against a double background of rising nationalism, decolonization, and wars on the one hand and the idea and experiences of modernity and the west on the other. We will examine works of fiction by both male and female writers including novels, short stories, and drama, as well as poetry representing several different Arab countries. Students are encouraged to read in advance Albert Hourani’s A History of the Arab People.* (Open to all, no previous knowledge of Arabic is required).

*The current description of this course advises students to read Albert Hourani’s A History of the Arab People prior to the beginning of class. As taught this semester (Fall 2014), the instructor neither encourages nor discourages interested students from reading A History of the Arab People, and has no expectation that any students will do so.


Course Goals

The primary goal of this course is to give students a foundational knowledge of the pre-eminent Arab authors of the 20th and 21st centuries and their literary works. Hewing to those poems, novels, and short stories commonly held in Arab estimation to be the finest examples of their modern literary culture – and taught as such in universities across the Arab world – students will be able engage literary-minded colleagues from the Arab world in conversations about literature as peers, not neophytes.

Secondly, students will develop overall familiarity with the techniques and tendencies of modern literary analysis and critique in general, and with those specific to the appreciation of modern Arabic literature in particular. Student will thus learn to engage with literary texts with an eye to such aesthetic tendencies as symbolism, social realism, literary commitment, modernism, magical realism, and more. The purpose behind this is not merely to develop an acquaintance with academic jargon, but rather to enrich the experience of delving into another person’s imagination and to better appreciate the social context that shaped it.