BEIRUT: A lot of the literature and art we consume allows us to better understand the world we live in, as well as connect with others around certain topics or stories we read. Many believe that literature can also instigate social change.
Joumana Haddad believes that literature can have a huge impact on people.
“I grew up in a very traditional and conservative family during the civil war. My childhood was not ideal, and reading was the thing that saved me,” she told Annahar. “I am the way I am today because I started reading when I was younger. I could’ve been a completely different person if it wasn’t for books, which gave me the strength to grow and taught me what it means to be free and to value myself."
Haddad is an author of several books, including "I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman," "Superman is an Arab: On God, Marriage, Macho Men and Other Disastrous Inventions," "The Third Sex," and her newest novel "The Seamstress’ Daughter."
The author addresses several issues in her books, from hyper-masculinity to western misconceptions of Arab women. However, she is also a journalist, poet, translator, playwright, and activist.
Haddad became more politically involved when she ran for parliamentary elections in 2018. She expressed that she refuses to sugarcoat her words or avoid certain topics in order to be elected or even accepted: “If I do not get there by being who I am, then I do not want to get there,” an attitude and sentiment that is echoed throughout most of her writings.
The author has faced a tremendous amount of backlash and censorship attempts in response to her work, but she did not let it stop her. She described her experience with publishing her magazine "Jasad" as a “battle against censorship.”
"Jasad" used to cover issues related to art, literature, cinema, philosophy and science of the body. A lot of the topics, such as discussions on sexuality, were seen as controversial.
Haddad won the battle despite the magazine’s illicit content, but it was shut down due to a different kind of censorship: financial censorship. Magazines often rely on advertisements, and there weren’t many entities that wanted to be associated with the topics discussed in the magazine.
On her relationship with readers, the author said: “a lot of young people see me as a mother figure, which is something I enjoy even though I never saw myself as a mother even to my own children - I always thought of myself as their friend,” she told Annahar. “But I do feel a sense of motherhood in relation to a lot of the youth in Lebanon, who feel like their voices are not heard, who want change but do not know where to start."
Haddad told Annahar that it was difficult for her to choose a favorite book of hers, comparing it to choosing a favorite child.
“Each one of them added something to my life,” she explained, “but my favorite at the moment is ‘The Seamstress’ Daughter’ perhaps because it’s new, and because it’s a story I’ve always wanted to tell and I finally did.”
Earlier this month Lebanon Bookclub hosted Joumana Haddad in Librairie Antoine for an open discussion on all her works. Haddad answered questions from members of the bookclub and attending audience.
Haddad expressed that people’s responses to her books are her main motivation when it comes to writing.
“When someone tells me that they saw themselves in my book, or when they say that I communicated something they’ve always wanted to say – every message I receive from a reader motivates me to write a hundred other books,” she said.
One of the attendees Lama Taki, told Annahar that her favorite book by Haddad is "The Seamstress’ Daughter" “because it depicts the reality of women in the Arab world and in Lebanon, and shows how women are often admonished for freely expressing themselves and for speaking up against injustice.”
“In her book, Haddad strived to avenge Arab women. She taught me not to be afraid of speaking up against any sort of discrimination I face,” expressed Taki.
The 18-year old added: “Haddad’s novel empowered me. I read a lot, and literature has given me a lot of strength.”
Welcome to “Naya”, the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. Naya is devoted to women of all generations-Naya Editor, Sally Farhat: Sally.firstname.lastname@example.org
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