An Arab Woman Poet as a Crossover Artist? Reconsidering the Ambivalent Legacy of Al-Khansaʾ

Michelle Hartman, McGill University

This article looks at how al-Khansaʾ, a seventh-century woman poet of the Arabian Peninsula, can be seen as a crossover artist between the Arabic and English-speaking poetic worlds. Al-Khansaʾ is a striking poetic figure partly because she is revered within the Arab world as the first Arab woman poet and writer but also because she holds a similarly prominent role in the translated English-reception environment as an exemplary Arab woman writer. This article explores how in this latter case, al-Khansaʾ is significantly altered in specific ways that are tied to her gender. It shows how the intersections between being an Arab, a Muslim, and a woman all inform her transformation, producing a problematic and ambivalent legacy for Arab women writers in the English-language context. The article suggests ways in which increased contextualization and historicization of Arab women writers and poets, particularly from early periods, can help to work towards more complex readings of their works.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]