Gender, Narrative and Nationalist Movement: Auto/biographical Narratives of Women in Egypt 1919.
Fellowship : October 2022 to june 2023
Discipline(s) : Literature
Pays : Belgium / Egypt
Dina Heshmat’s residency seminar will take place on Monday, March 13, 2023:
Autobiography, Gender, and the Nationalist Movement in Egypt: autobiographical narratives of women in 1919.
Women were active in the 1919 anti-colonial revolution in Egypt as nationalist and feminist activists. However, their voices are mostly marginalized in the dominant narrative about 1919. This project aims to recover their autobiographical narratives, studying a large corpus of texts: memoirs, articles, poems, and unpublished letters. Based on studies asserting the existence of elements of autobiography in other genres of writing, it posits that these occasional productions, journalistic writings, and personal missives can be held to be autobiographical narratives, where self-writing is conducted in a hostile context. Contextualized through a systematic reading of the contemporary press, these fragmented narratives come together to form a puzzle articulating a collective voice, anchored in a community welded together by strong solidarity and female friendships, but also haunted by social disparities and episodic political tensions. In addition to enriching research on the 1919 revolution in Egypt and contributing to gender studies, as well as autobiographical studies, this project has the ambition to insert into the memory of 1919 the voices, both individual and collective, of these often unrecognized women.
Suggestions of the week:
Film: Hala Khalil, Nawwara (2015).
Book : Arwa Salih, The Stillborn, Notebooks of a woman from the student-movement generation in Egypt, translated by Samah Selim, London, New York, Calcutta, Seagull Books, 2017.
Image: This painting, entitled "Prison", was painted by Gazibiyya Sirri (1925-2021) in 1955, probably in reaction to a wave of arrests against political opponents carried out by the Nasserite regime.
Women were active participants in the anti-colonial revolution of 1919 in Egypt, both as nationalist and feminist militants. Yet their voices are mostly forgotten in the dominant narrative about 1919. This project aims at retrieving their autobiographical narratives, by looking at a wide range of texts they authored, including memoirs, articles, poems, short stories, and unpublished letters. Building on the work of scholars who have argued that traces of autobiography can be found in other genres of writing, I contend that these occasional literary productions, journalistic writings and personal letters can be read as autobiographical narratives attempting to write the self in a hostile context. Read alongside more conventional memoirs, the multi-layered narratives of those women emerge, expressing feelings of anger, fear and loneliness, in addition to strong nationalist and feminist commitment. Contextualized through a systematic reading of the contemporary press, these scattered narratives then come together as a puzzle to articulate a collective voice, shaped by a sense of belonging to a community of strong feminine solidarities and friendships, while also haunted by class disparities and occasional political tensions. In addition to its contribution to autobiography and gender studies, this project has both individual and collective biographical ambitions, as it attempts to reinscribe in the memory of 1919 the voices of women lost in the repetitive remembering of a few famous names. In doing so, it also enriches the overall historical scholarship around the 1919 revolution.
Dina Heshmat is Assistant Professor of Arabic literature at the American University in Cairo. Her research deals with the relationship between urban and historical contexts and literary narratives. Her current work focuses more specifically on literary and cinematic renderings of moments of revolt and revolution in Egypt. Her latest book, Egypt 1919: The Revolution in Literature and Film, published at Edinburgh University Press in 2020 has been translated into Arabic (Dar al-Shuruq, 2021). She is also the author of Cairo in Modern and Contemporary Egyptian Literature (Cairo, Supreme Council of Culture, 2007, in Arabic). In addition, she has written about gender in literature and cinema, diaries of the 2011 revolution and the intersection between journalistic and literary writing. She has contributed to a variety of publications, both academic and non-academic, including Arabica, Alif, The Encyclopedia of Islam, Jadaliyya, Orient XXI and Akhbar al-Adab.
Egypt 1919: The Revolution in Literature and Film, Edinburgh University, June 2020 (Arabic translation by Shuhrat al-Alim, Dar al-Shuruq, 2021)
Cairo in Modern and Contemporary Egyptian Literature (in Arabic), Supreme Council of Culture, Cairo, 2007 (PhD dissertation, my own translation)