PEN WORLD VOICES
Critical Minds, Social Revolution:
Egyptian Activist Nawal El Saadawi
Critical Minds, Social Revolution
The Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture by Nawal El Saadawi
Cooper Union, NYC – May-2009 – Nawal El Saadawi and Kwame Anthony Appiah
(Editor’s Note: If you were among the hundreds of thousands of protestors gathered in Tahrir Square witnessing the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, you might not have noticed a petite woman, nearly 80 years old with a cloud of white hair. You might not have noticed her, but Dr. Nawal el Saadawi is a leading Egyptian feminist, sociologist, medical doctor, and militant writer on Arab women’s issues; and one of the most widely translated contemporary Egyptian writers. In 2009, el Saadawi gave the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write lecture at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York City.)
On the final night of the PEN World Voices Festival, they sat next to each other on stage at Cooper Union in New York City – Kwame Anthony Appiah, President of PEN American Center and professor of philosophy at Princeton University, and Nawal El Saadawi, a leading Egyptian feminist, socialist, medical doctor, and militant writer on Arab women’s issues.
After a brief introduction by the soft-spoken, Oxford-educated Appiah, the diminutive, El Saadawi, took over the stage, a burning flame, burning brighter with each word. For starters, El Saadawi made it clear that she would have preferred not to sit on stage at all.”No one is higher or lower,” she said. And from there, she took off.
“The word freedom is an illusion,” she added. “In the U.S. we are not free. Just because this is a country where people have the freedom to dress and undress, that kind of freedom is an illusion. Without changing language we are not free.”
El Saadawi has been writing for more than 25 years about women, particularly Arab women, their sexuality and legal status. In Egypt, her writings, often considered controversial and dangerous to society, were banned. She was imprisoned under the Anwar Sadat regime, for alleged “crimes against the state.”
“I was arrested,” she says. “Because I believed Sadat. He said there is democracy and we have a multi-party system and you can criticize. So I started criticizing his policy and I landed in jail.”
El Saadawi continued to write in prison, using a “stubby black eyebrow pencil” and “a small roll of old and tattered toilet paper.”
“I remember in prison,” she said. “The jailers came every day to inspect my cell looking for a piece of paper. They said it was more dangerous than a gun. But I was happy in prison because really we are all prisoners of the system.”
El Saadawi is fearless. She grew up as one of nine children in a village near the Nile River. As a young girl she was circumcised. (According to Sadaawi, 97% of Egyptian woman are genitally mutilated.) But her parents believed in education for girls – a rarity at the time – and had dreams of her becoming a doctor. And so she went to medical school.
“Writers should study science,” she says. “I learned and wrote about bone and got to see the heart and the light of the flesh. Seeing death every day helped me link death to life. There is no separation between the physical and the spiritual. And we must remember that there is no safe place. I can have a car accident. I think that death and life are one and to be afraid of death is the major reason writers don’t put down on the page what they really think.”
To amplify her point, she says that in 2008 she was acquitted of a lawsuit that would have stripped her of Egyptian citizenship after she wrote a play called, God Resigns at the Summit.
The founder and president of the Arab Woman’s Solidarity Association (ASWA), also made clear that if we are to change the world, we must link individualism with collectivism.
“An individual does nothing alone,” she says. “When we organize we grow strong.” And, she added, “Without a critical mind we can’t be creative or participate in a social revolution.”
In 2006, Joy E. Stocke founded Wild River Review with Kimberly Nagy, an outgrowth of the literary magazine, The Bucks County Writer, of which Stocke was Editor in Chief. In 2009, as their editorial practice grew, Stocke and Nagy founded Wild River Consulting & Publishing, LLC.
With more than twenty-five years experience as a writer and journalist, Stocke works with many of the writers who appear in the pages of Wild River Review, as well as clients from around the world.
In addition, Stocke has shepherded numerous writers into print. She has interviewed Nobel Prize winners Orhan Pamuk and Muhammud Yunus, Pulitzer Prizewinner Paul Muldoon, Paul Holdengraber, host of LIVE from the NYPL; Roshi Joan Halifax, founder of Upaya Zen Center; anthropologist and expert on end of life care, Mary Catherine Bateson; Ivonne Baki, President of the Andean Parliament; and Templeton Prizewinner Freeman Dyson among others.
In 2006, along with Nagy, Stocke interviewed scientists and artists including former Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman and Dean of Faculty, David P. Dobkin for the documentary Quark Park, chronicling the creation of an award-winning park built on a vacant lot in the heart of Princeton, New Jersey; a park that united art, science and community.
She is president of the Board of Directors at the Cabo Pulmo Learning Center, Cabo Pulmo, Baja Sur, Mexico; and is a member of the Turkish Women’s International Network.
In addition, Stocke has written extensively about her travels in Greece and Turkey. Her memoir, Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses & Saints, based on more than ten years of travel through Turkey, co-written with Angie Brenner was published in March 2012. Her cookbook, Tree of Life: Turkish Home Cooking will be published in March, 2017 by Quarto Books under the Burgess Lea Press imprint . Stocke and Brenner are currently testing recipes for a companion book, which will feature Anatolian-inspired mezes from around the world.
Stocke’s essay “Turkish American Food” appears in the 2nd edition of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America (OUP, 2013). The volume won both International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) for Beverage/Reference/Technical category, 2014; and the Gourmand Award for the Best Food Book of the Year, 2014.
She is the author of a bi-lingual book of poems, Cave of the Bear, translated into Greek by Lili Bita based on her travels in Western Crete, and is currently researching a book about the only hard-finger coral reef in Mexico on the Baja Sur Peninsula. She has been writing about environmental issues there since 2011.
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with a Bachelor of Science in Broadcast Journalism from the Agriculture Journalism School where she also received a minor of Food Science, she participated in the Lindisfarne Symposium on The Evolution of Consciousness with cultural philosopher, poet and historian, William Irwin Thompson. In 2009, she became a Lindisfarne Fellow.
Works by Joy E. Stocke in this Edition
AIRMAIL – LETTERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
AIRMAIL – VOICE FROM SYRIA
ARTS – ART
COLUMNS – THE MYSTIC PEN
FOOD & DRINK – ANATOLIAN KITCHEN
FREYMAN & PETERSON- Your Life is a Book: How to Craft and Publish Your Memoir
LITERATURE – BOOK REVIEWS
LITERATURE – ESSAYS
LITERATURE – MEMOIR
LITERATURE – POETRY
LIVE FROM THE NYPL
The Euphoria of Ignorance: Being Jewish, Becoming Jewish, The Paradox of Being Carlo Ginzburg
Fountain of Curiosity: Paul Holdengraber on Attention, Tension and Stretching the Limits of Conversation at the New York Public Library
Paul Holdengraber – The Afterlife of Conversation
2013 – Three Questions: Festival Director Jakab Orsos talks about Art, Bravery, and Sonia Sotomayor
Critical Minds, Social Revolution: Egyptian Activist Nawal El Saadawi
INTERVIEW – Laszlo Jakab Orsos: Written on Water
Tonight We Rest Here: An Interview with Poet Saadi Youssef
Georgian Writer David Dephy’s Second Skin
On the High Line: Diamonds on the Soles of Our Shoes
Car Bombs on the West Side, Journalists Uptown
New York City – Parade of Illuminations: Behind the Scenes with Festival Director Jakab Orsos
The Pen Cabaret 2008: Bowery Ballroom — Featuring..
Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses and Saints
Daring Collaborations: Rolex and LIVE from the NYPL at the New York Public Library Composing a Further Life: with Mary Catherine Bateson
WRR@LARGE: From the Editors – UP THE CREEK
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 1
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 2.5
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 3.3
Up the Creek: Number 4.4
Up the Creek: Beautiful Solutions
Up the Creek: Blind Faith, July 2009
Up the Creek: Create Dangerously
Up the Creek: What Price Choice?
Up the Creek: Before and After: September 11, 2001
Up the Creek: Candle in a Long Street
Up the Creek: Crossing Cultures: Transcending History
Up the Creek: Man in the Mirror; A Map of the World
Up the Creek: Stories and the Shape of Time
Up the Creek: The Divine Road To Istanbul
Up the Creek: What It Means to Yearn
WRR@LARGE – WILD COVERAGE
UNESCO World Heritage Site Under Threat of Mega-Devlopment Sparks International Protests
The Other Side Of Abu Ghraib — Part One: The Detainees’ Quest For Justice
The Other Side of Abu Ghraib – Part Two: The Yoga Teacher Goes to Istanbul