23. ilb 06. – 16.09.2023

Arwa Abduh Othman

Arwa Abduh Othman was born in 1965 in a village near Taiz in Yemen. She describes her literary background: »My way into literature came for me through the stories my grandmother used to tell me – puzzling, often eerie and spooky stories with witches and fairies, in which tyrannical men terrorise the heroines. These Yemeni sagas were all too applicable to the life in our village in the Taiz highlands, where the market women bring their goods by camel and fairy tales are told on the streets on market days. Stories of burning love and terrible death which made a big impression on me and from which I still draw inspiration.« During Arwa Othman’s schooling, there were other influences, including Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Nagib Mahfuz and Hermann Hesse, all of whom opened up new worlds for her.

She studied philosophy in the capital, Sana’a, and began writing as an author, journalist and researcher. In her writing she in many ways remains concerned with the feminine elements of Yemeni tradition. She set up and, for many years now, has run a folklore museum in Sana’a and publishes reports on the threatened heritage of many regions in Yemen.

She protests: »In many ways Yemeni folk tales are being replaced by fairy tales on politics and religiosity… I confront this division, which is peculiar to the Arabic-Islamic world, in many of my stories. It’s up to us to challenge society’s nihilism by telling stories and helping to create a more humane world. We women above all must try to escape the constriction and narrowness of our country.« She still feels the repression of her childhood and the typical treatment of girls and women within the family.

© international literaturefestival berlin