New visions for Arabic-Nordic literature

A roundtable discussion in Uppsala discussed Ahmed Al-Nawas’s new report on Arabic-Nordic literary field

Many displaced Arabic speaking activists, authors and artists have found residence in Nordic countries during the last decades. Literature produced in the Nordic region in Arabic has gained international interest and Arabic authors in the Nordic region have played a significant role in mediating literature between the Arabic and Nordic worlds.

Baghdad Café project, Litteraturcentrum Uppsala and Multilingualism and diversity as a Resource in the Cultural Field organized a roundtable discussion based on Ahmed Al Nawas’s new report on Arabic-Nordic literature in the premises of Studiefrämjandet, Uppsala, in April 20th 2017. The participants were representatives of Arabic-Nordic literature, Swedish Arts Council (Kulturrådet), Swedish Authors’ Fund (Författarfond) and Writers’ Center (Författarcentrum).

Literature written or published in Arabic in the Nordic region has gained increasing international interest and the Arabic-Nordic authors play a significant role in mediating literature between the Arabic and Nordic worlds. ”

Ahmed Al-Nawas

Al-Nawas’s report and the following discussion, moderated by poet and translator Jasim Mohamed, focused on the role of Arabic language and Arabic speaking authors in Nordic literature including translations, possibilities of publication and different processes of mediation. During the discussion, the invited writers; Duna Ghali from Denmark and Manal Al-Sheikh from Norway, gave insight to the Arabic writers’ position in different Nordic Countries, and Mona Henning, the director of Dar al-Muna publishing house, contributed to the discussion with her long-term experience as a publisher in Arabic language between the Nordic and Middle Eastern contexts.

What happens for the texts written in Nordic countries on their way to printed books if the original language is Arabic? How could a writer work in the Nordic area in Arabic language, without being submitted to the censorship of the publishing houses of the Arab World? How can the texts reach local readers and what is the location of such diasporic literature? Is there a way for an author to gain income with her or his work, if the literary works are published in a market with high rates of piracy? Can the translations of Nordic books into Arabic and vice versa work as bridges between Arabic and Nordic authors – and offer paths for readers from one context to another?

A poetry reading in Arabic and Swedish completed the day at the Studentbokhandeln with the poets Duna Ghali, Manal Al-Sheikh, Aya Chalabee and Wafai Laila. The event was hosted by poet and translator Jasim Mohamed, who also read his Swedish translations of the poems.

Considering the differences between the publishing contexts of Nordic and Arabic countries and the rising amount of Arabic-speakers in the Nordic countries, it seemed that there were many arguments to think of a Nordic-Arabic publishing collaboration. The discussion included ideas related to the funding possibilities of such work. Would co-funding between Nordic and Arabic countries be a doable solution? How much does the funding source affect the nature of the literary works and structural solutions of the publishing activity? Many questions arised for further development of the Arabic-Nordic literary field.

The final version of Ahmed Al-Nawas’s report will be published on the 31st of May in Helsinki, Finland, in the premises of Nordic Culture Point. Discussions around the same themes, including more languages, continue also in the Nordisk Språkfest, Århus, in a seminar called Language is the house we live in, co-organized by Culture for All and Nordisk Sprogkoordination in September 21st.


On behalf of Multilingualism and Diversity as a Resource in the Cultural Field we thank all the participants and organizers of the roundtable discussion and poetry reading. We will continue the discussion in a fertile ground formed by all the contributors.