Raja'a Alem

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Raja'a Alem
Mohammed Achaari with Raja'a Alem at the 2011 London Literature Festival
Mohammed Achaari with Raja'a Alem at the 2011 London Literature Festival
Native name
رجاء عالم
NationalitySaudi Arabian
Notable awards2011 Arabic Booker Prize

Raja'a Alem (Arabic: رجاء عالم) (born in 1970) is a Saudi Arabian novelist from Mecca/Hejaz.


Alem was born in Mecca. She received her BA in English Literature[1][2] and works as a tutor for the Center for Training Kindergarten Teachers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. She is an active writer of prose and her style, a blend of modern style with traditional themes, is unique among Saudi authors. Alem has published several plays, three novels, and a collection of short stories, Nahr al-Hayawan (The Animal River, 1994). She is the recipient of several prestigious international prizes.

Her short story "One Thousand Braids and a Governess" has been translated into English and published in "Voices of Change: short stories by Saudi Arabian women writers" edited by Abubaker Bagader, Ava M. Heinrichsdorff, Deborah Akers Her birth in Mecca and her family background is highly influential to her work and outlook. She has reflected on her relationship with the now overhauled and renovated city Mecca, saying:

I belong to a stream of thinking rather than a piece of land, to a current that runs everywhere. My country is all over the globe...Now, in Mecca, I felt I belonged, not to the ceremonies performed by thousands of bodies but to a spirit that was reaching out to me alone. I somehow felt that I was seeing beyond things, past the glare of the full moon, feeling the elation you experience when you reach the power behind things. Or maybe it was about the way the moonlight mingled with the longings of the pilgrims.[3]

Some of her works in Arabic have been banned. Writing in English was a significant decision for Alem. She has said:

"The fact is that my people are drifting away from their own culture, and many of them no longer have a clue about what I'm writing about. So I find myself looking for new ways to communicate, for other languages, and English was the first one that came to hand...'Coming out' in another language is a way of shedding inhibitions. All the things that made me feel ashamed lost their morbid grip on me and became acceptable. I’ve never read any of my books published in Arabic; it makes me feel completely naked. Reading them in another language, though, I feel alive in a poetic way."[3]

Among her significant work: Khatam, Sayidi Wehadana, Masra Ya Rageeb, Hubba, The Silk Road, and many more novels.

She divides her time between Jeddah and Paris.

2011 Arabic Booker Prize[edit]

Alem was announced joint winner of the 2011 Arabic Booker Prize for her novel The Doves' Necklace. She shared the prize with the Moroccan writer Mohammed Achaari.


  • ثقوب في الظهر (Thouqoub fi el-dahr) Beyrouth: Dar al Adab, 2006. OCLC 822666376
  • ستر (Sitr) Beyrouth : Dar al Adab, 2006. OCLC 822666398
  • الرقص على سن الشوكة (Al-raqs ala sinn al-shouka) Beyrouth: Dar al Adab, 2006. OCLC 822652972
  • طريق الحرير (Tariq al-harir) Beyrouth : Dar al Adab, 2006. OCLC 822666564
  • خاتم (Khatim) Beyrouth : Dar al-bayda, 2006. OCLC 822666506

Venice Biennale[edit]

In 2011, Alem represented Saudi Arabia with her sister, the artist Shadia Alem at the Venice Biennale.[4] This was the first time that Saudi Arabia had entered the festival.[5] Their work was entitled The Black Arch and referenced travel narratives, Hajj and the representation of women.[6]


  1. ^ "Writing Arabian Style". Archived from the original on January 25, 2007.
  2. ^ "9th International Literature Festival, Berlin". 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-30.
  3. ^ a b McDonough, Tom. "Raja Alem". BOMB Magazine Spring 2008. Retrieved August 10, 2011.
  4. ^ Cumming, Laura (2011-06-04). "The 54th Venice biennale – review". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved 2020-03-26.
  5. ^ Bharadwaj, Vinita (2012-01-18). "Contemporary Artists Rock the Boat Gently in Saudi Arabia". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-03-26.
  6. ^ Dazed (2011-06-08). "Venice Biennale 2011: Saudi Arabia's The Black Arch". Dazed. Retrieved 2020-03-26.