Margaret Litvin*

is Associate Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at Boston University, USA, is a historian of modern Arabic (primarily Egyptian) literature and theatre. Her first book, Hamlet’s Arab Journey: Shakespeare’s Prince and Nasser’s Ghost (Princeton, 2011), examined the many reworkings of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the theatre and political rhetoric of postcolonial Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. A companion anthology of translations, Four Arab Hamlet Plays, is in press with the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center at CUNY. More recently Litvin has focused on reconstructing the tangled legacies of Arab writers’ experiences in Russia and the Soviet Union. Her articles, reviews, and artist interviews have appeared in Journal of Arabic Literature, Critical Survey, PAJ: A Journal of Performing Arts, Theatre Research International, PMLA, several Shakespeare journals, and the online venues Marginalia Review of Books, Words Without Borders, and n+1. She is now translating Sonallah Ibrahim’s novel al-Jalid (Ice, 2011). At Boston University, Litvin teaches Arabic literature (in Arabic and in translation) as well as seminars on literary translation. She is founding director of the Middle East & North Africa Studies Program in the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies. Born in Moscow, she holds a PhD in Social Thought from the University of Chicago and a BA in Humanities from Yale. Her research has been awarded an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship (Yale University), an ACLS Frederick Burkhardt Fellowship to work at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Studies in Uppsala, Sweden (2015-16), and an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship (2016-8), that she will spend between EUME in Berlin and the Center for Near and Middle Eastern Studies (CNMS) of the Philipps-Universität Marburg.

Arab Writers, Moscow Dreams

Throughout the Arab encounter with western-driven modernity, Russian and Soviet cultural products provided models against which Arab thinkers developed their ideas and styles. Even beyond any particular Russian novel or film, the idea of Russia (and later the Soviet Union) exerted a magnetic pull on Arab intellectual life. Russia was a potent exemplar: a civilization that had managed to overtake and even join Europe without giving up its cultural integrity or its status as an alternative to western culture.

This research will yield a book of essays on the history of Arab-Russian and Arab-Soviet literary and cultural ties since the mid-nineteenth century, focused especially on the period between 1964 and 1990. The prehistory of these cultural ties includes al-Azhar scholar Muhammad ‘Iyad al-Tantawi (1810-1861), who moved to St. Petersburg in the 1830s; and the great Lebanese writer Mikhail Nu‘aymah (1889-1988), who studied in Poltava (now Ukraine) in 1908. The history can be reconstructed through figures such as Egyptian novelist Sonallah Ibrahim and Syrian director Mohammad Malas, who were among hundreds of Arab intellectuals to study in Russia in the 1970s, and a later generation including Egyptian writer Mohamed Makhzangi, Moroccan director Djamaleddine Dkhissi, and Iraqi director Monadhil Daood. The project focuses not on Russia’s “influence” but on Arab intellectuals’ responses. It draws on novels, memoirs, poetry collections, travelogues, journalistic reports, documentary films, and archival research in Moscow, Cairo, and Berlin, as well as personal interviews with living writers, filmmakers, and other alumni of Soviet educational institutions.

*EUME Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung

Publications in the context of the fellowship:

“I want to see more rising scholars with large and diverse language sets and really transnational interests – 5in10 with Margaret Litvin”