Adabiyat, founded by Alaoui and Lina Barkawi, is a particularly successful Arabic literature-focused book club that was launched last summer. Although there is no institutional home, Alaoui and Barkawi have had the experience of creating a literary community.
âLina and I ran an in-person book club focused on literature from the Arab world in Books on the Middle East and more bookstore in DC, âAlaoui said via email. âWe launched it five years ago to provide local readers with the ability to read novels by Arab (including diaspora) writers in their own words. Unfortunately, about two years ago we were both busy with work and school, and Lina moved to New York, so we had to give up our baby.
When they saw the range of virtual events unfold in spring 2020, they felt inspired to relaunch the initiative, which is now hosting a new online book group meeting. about once a month. Their members come from all over the United States, as well as “Spain, France, United Arab Emirates and more!”
In-person clubs that have moved online
Other groups, such as Banipal and MENAWA, have long held in-person discussions. The MENAWA Book Club was founded in 2014 at Lancaster University, UK.
âWe usually had about 10 people in person, from all over the place,â said Lindsey Moore, one of the group’s founders. âWe moved online last spring due to Covid-19,â and it’s open to anyone interested. The core group is quite small and remains academic, but we also had general readers from the UK and beyond.
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The Banipal Book Club also hosted in-person events at BALMAL Library of the Arab British Center in London, until it goes live in April 2020. Since then, the group has held monthly events, mainly to discuss Arabic literature in English translation. Cairo-based writer Riham Adly, who has now been able to attend sessions online, said: âI love Zoom Book Clubs because it allows me to be in the same room with people from all over the world. I have met award-winning translators and have been able to speak and express, even criticize.
Different groups, different protocols
Barkawi, from Adabiyat, said the online version of a book club offers a wider range of perspectives.