Emily Nasrallah

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Emily Nasrallah
BornEmily Daoud Abi Rached
(1931-07-06)6 July 1931
Kaukaba, Lebanon
Died13 March 2018(2018-03-13) (aged 86)
Beirut, Lebanon
OccupationNovelist, journalist, short-story writer
Notable awardsGoethe Medal
SpousePhilip Nasrallah
ChildrenRamzi, Maha, Khalil, and Mona

Emily Daoud Nasrallah (Arabic: إيميلي داود نصر الله‎) (née Abi Rached; 6 July 1931 – 13 March 2018)[1] was a Lebanese writer and women's rights activist.

She graduated from then Beirut College for Women (now the Lebanese American University) with an Associate's Degree in Arts in 1956, then continued her studies to earn a BA in education and literature from the American University of Beirut in 1958. Nasrallah also started writing and soon achieved acclaim for her writing with the publication of her first novel, Birds of September, in 1962. The book earned her instant praise and three Arabic literary prizes.[citation needed]

She became a prolific writer, publishing many novels, children's stories and short story collections touching on themes such as family, village life, war, emigration and women’s rights for which she fought throughout her life.[2][3]


Early life[edit]

Emily Daoud Abi Rached was born in the small village of Kaukaba,[4] and raised in al-Kfeir (at the western foot of Mount Hermon in southern Lebanon) on 6 July 1931 to Loutfa, née Abou Nasr and her husband Daoud Abi Rached. The eldest of six children, she grew up working in the village fields with her parents; an experience that would have later echoes in her writings. She watched the village emptying and family members emigrating in search for greener pastures especially that the village offered feeble educational and professional prospects.[5]

Kfeir's public school only received students at the age of six but the four-year-old's passion for learning drove her to eavesdrop on the classes, the school being adjacent to her parental home. She used to recite the poems and stories she heard to her father and his friends.[6][2]

Her maternal uncle, Ayub Abou Nasr, a fellow of the New York Pen League took special interest in her education when he returned from emigration due to a neurological illness; he quickly recognized her talent and encouraged her learning. He would often ask her to write descriptive essays – of Mount Hermon for example – which helped broaden her imagination and further her writing skills.[6][7]

Youth in the boarding school[edit]

After finishing her studies at the elementary public school of the village which only offered education till the third elementary grade at that time,[5]

Nasrallah wrote a letter to her second maternal uncle, an expatriate businessman in West Virginia, expressing her interest in pursuing higher education and explaining her family's dire financial circumstances that prevented her from paying private schooling fees. Her uncle granted her wish and paid for her tuition.

She left her hometown when she was sixteen years of age to pursue her education at the Choueifat National College, a boarding school in the suburbs of Beirut.[6][8]

She studied in the Choueifat school for four years, during this period her passion for literature deepened as she became an avid reader.[6] She compensated for the absence of a library in her hometown with spending many hours at the Choueifat school library;[5] since she had no resources to buy books, she smuggled Mikha'il Na'ima and Khalil Gibran books – which would influence her writing career greatly – from the college library in order to read them illicitly in her bed. Her fondness of reading was ever-growing, she admitted enjoying the 'interesting reading material' found in the journal and magazine shreds that enveloped dragées and other sweets.[6]

Nasrallah credited Nassim Nasser, her Arabic language teacher, for helping to develop her writing skills and orienting her through his "red correction pen harsh criticism". He was the first to publish her writings in the Telegraph, a local Beirutine magazine, in 1949 and 1950; he also encouraged and selected her to participate in composition and rhetoric contests.[6]

College and career[edit]

After graduation, Nasrallah's parents wanted her to come back to Kfeir and teach at the village school as they did not wish for her to live alone in the city; she decided otherwise and came back to Beirut where she tutored Edvique Shayboub's[nb 1][9] children. Edvique, editor in chief of Sawt al Mar'a (Woman's voice) magazine, offered her the opportunity to publish articles in her magazine and encouraged her to settle in Beirut.[citation needed]

In 1955, Amal Makdessy Kortas (director of the Ahliah school) offered Nasrallah a job and lodging at the school in Wadi Abu Jamil; she taught for two hours daily at the school where Hanan al-Shaykh had been her pupil.[8] She fell short of paying her college education tuition and was financially aided by her friend and colleague at the Ahlia school, Jalila Srour.

She also tutored, wrote magazine articles in Sawt al Mar'a and lent her voice to the national radio (al-itha'a al-lubnaniyya) to repay her debt to Jalila[6] and pay for her college education at the Beirut College for Women[8] and the American University of Beirut where she majored with a Bachelor of Arts in education and literature in 1958.[6][10]

Career and journalism[edit]

In 1955, Nasrallah was introduced to Jacqueline Nahas, a journalist at as-Sayyad publishing house and started her 15 years long career at as-Sayyad (the hunter) magazine writing in the society news section; she also contributed articles to Al Anwar newspaper.[6][11] Between 1973 and 1975, she worked as cultural and public relation consultant at the Beirut University College before joining Fayruz magazine from 1981 till 1987 as feature editor.[11]

Personal life[edit]

Emily married Philip Nasrallah, a chemist from Zahleh in 1957 while still in college. The couple had four children: Ramzi, Maha, Khalil, and Mona.[10] She never left Beirut, even at the height of the Lebanese civil war, she became one of the Beirut Decentrists.[8][nb 2]



  • Tuyur Aylul (The birds of September) was Nasrallah's first novel it received critical acclaim and three Arabic literary prizes within the same year of publication in 1962; the prizes are: Laureate Best Novel, the Said Akl Prize, and Friends of the Book Prize.
  • Shajarat al-Difla (The olenader tree), published in 1968.
  • al-Rahina (The hostage), 1974
  • Tilka l-dhikrayat (Those memories), 1980
  • al-Iqlaʿ ʿaks al-zaman (Flight against time, translated by Issa J. Boullata), 1981
  • al-Jamr al-ghafi (The sleeping amber), 1995[12]
  • Ma Hadatha Fi Jouzour Tamaya (What Happened in the Tamaya Islands)

Short stories[edit]

  • Jazirat al-Wahm (The island of illusion), 1973
  • al-Yanbouʿ (The Spring), 1978
  • al-Mar'a fi 17 qissa (Women in 17 stories), 1984
  • al-Tahuna al-da'iʿa (The lost mill, translated by Issa J. Boullata), 1984
  • Khubzuna al-yami (Our daily bread), 1988
  • Mahattat al-rahil (Stations on a journey), 1996[12]
  • Rawat lia al-ayyam (Days recounted), 1997
  • Al-Layali al-Ghajariyya (Gypsy Nights), 1998
  • Awraq Minsiah (Forgotten papers)
  • Aswad wa Abyiad (Black and White)
  • Riyah janoubiyyah (Southern Winds)

Children's literature[edit]

  • Shadi as-Saghir (Little Shadi), 1977
  • al-Bahira (The Resplendent Flower)
  • Yawmiyat Hirr (A cat's diary), 1988
  • ʿala Bissat al Thalj (On a Snow Carpet)
  • Al Ghazala (The Gazelle)
  • Anda al Khawta (Anda the Fool)
  • Ayna tathhab Anda? (Where does Anda go?)[12]


  • Nisaa' Ra'idat – Volumes 1,2 and 3 Biographies of pioneer women From the East
  • Nisaa' Ra'idat – Volumes 4,5 and 6 Biographies of pioneer women From the West
  • Fil Bal" (Recollections of start-up of Journalistic Career)

Awards and honors[edit]

Nasrallah's A cat's diary figured on the 1998 IBBY honor list.[13] The book depicts the horrors of war in Beirut from the viewpoint of Zicco (Zeeko) a Siamese cat and his friend, the girl Mona.[14]

On 28 August 2017, the Goethe-Institut awarded Nasrallah with the Goethe Medal, an official decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany honoring non-Germans for meritorious contributions in the spirit of the Institute.[15]

On 6 February 2018, President Michel Aoun decorated her with the Cedar Medal of Honor, Commander Rank. Nasrallah said on the occasion that this was one of the happiest days of her life.[citation needed] When due to health reasons, Nasrallah was unable to attend the award event scheduled to be held at the Presidential Palace, President Aoun sent Minister of Justice Salim Jreissaty to represent him in Nasrallah's home, where the decoration ceremony took place.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Edvique Shayboub was a contemporary journalist and novelist, editor in chief of Sawt el Mar'a magazine
  2. ^ miriam cooke coined the term "Beirut decentrists" for the Lebanese women writers as they have been twice "decentred". Once because they are "scattered all over a self-destructing city" and secondly because they are excluded from literary canon and social discourse."


  1. ^ Roberts, Sam (16 March 2018). "Emily Nasrallah, Lebanese Novelist and Activist, Dies at 86". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 19 March 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  2. ^ a b "Lebanese novelist: Biography". Emily Nasrallah. Retrieved 9 February 2013.
  3. ^ "Novels". Emily Nasrallah. Retrieved 9 February 2013.
  4. ^ "إملي نصراللّه (أبي راشد) ولدت في 6 تموز 1931 في كوكبا". emilynasrallah.com (in Arabic).
  5. ^ a b c Davidian, Edgar (14 March 2007). "Emilie Nasrallah: "La liberté ne se donne pas mais elle se prend"". iloubnan (in French). Retrieved 8 December 2009.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Mansour, Therese (June 2006). إميلي نصرالله – قلم يرشح نضارة وجمراً. مجلة الجيش (in Arabic) (252). Retrieved 21 November 2009.
  7. ^ Foerch, Christina. "A writer who has seen the world, but prefers her village". Daily Star. Retrieved 31 December 2009.
  8. ^ a b c d Cooke, Miriam (1988). War's other voices: women writers on the Lebanese civil war. Landmarks of World Literature. Issue 14 of Cambridge Middle East library. Cambridge University Press. p. 208. ISBN 978-0-521-34192-9. Retrieved 19 November 2009.
  9. ^ Shehadeh, Lamia Rustum (1999). Women and war in Lebanon. University Press of Florida. ISBN 978-0-8130-1707-5. Retrieved 7 December 2009.
  10. ^ a b Zeidan, Joseph T. (1995). Arab women novelists: the formative years and beyond. SUNY series in Middle Eastern Studies. SUNY Press. p. 363. ISBN 978-0-7914-2171-0. Retrieved 19 November 2009.
  11. ^ a b International Who's Who of Authors and Writers (19 ed.). Routledge. 2003. p. 640. ISBN 978-1-85743-179-7. Retrieved 3 January 2010.
  12. ^ a b c Ashour, Radwa; Ferial Ghazoul; Hasna Reda Mekdashi; Mandy McClure (2008). Arab Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide, 1873-1999. Arab Women Writers. American University in Cairo press. p. 526. ISBN 978-977-416-146-9.
  13. ^ International Borad on Books for Young People (1998). "Honour list 1998". ALO docView. Retrieved 12 December 2009.
  14. ^ "Internationales literatur festival berlin". literaturfestival. 2005. Retrieved 12 December 2009.
  15. ^ "GOETHE-MEDAILLE IN WEIMAR VERLIEHEN". @GI_weltweit (in German). Retrieved 29 August 2017.

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