Women Writers on Arabian Nights

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Erica Wagner interviews Hanan Al-Shayk, Lebanese author, and Marina Warner, cultural historian, on what the modern world can learn from 1,001 Nights for Guernica Magazine.

The three feminist-minded writers champion 1,001 Nights for its giving voice to the oppressed and as a demonstration of how the weak are to use cunning and wiliness as their means to power. The group also criticizes the West’s infantalization of the stories and preference for male-centric fairytales marked by a “collective desire to discipline young girls into inaction.” Many commercial versions of the stories have been sanitized and hold little resemblance to the original subversive stories, and both interviewees speak about how on their first read of the original material they were surprised to find dissident themes. 1,001 Nights has continued to play a part in both writers’ lives: Al-Shayk has recently published a translation and Warner has published a reflection on the book’s impact on the West.


Graham Todd is an intern at The Rumpus. He spends his mornings writing post-apocalyptic, vaguely biblical sci-fi horror comedy, his evenings tutoring the wide-eyed youth of the Palo Alto area, and his Thursdays at The Rumpus office, effectively “off the streets”. Beyond this weekly ritual, he enjoys karaoke, the movies, and jogging. More from this author →