Elizabeth Saylor Collection of Books by Women Arabic Writers


Elizabeth Saylor Collection of Books by Women Arabic Writers


Arabic literature
Arab American fiction
Arab American women


Biographical/Historical Note

Salmā Sā’igh, Salwā Salāma, and Afīfa Karam were three prominent literary figures born in Syria in the 1880s. They each immigrated to the Americas (Sā’igh and Salāma to Brazil and Karam to the United States), where their literary careers took root. The three writers’ work focused especially on issues of women’s rights and empowerment.

Salmā Sā’igh (1889-1953) was a writer, orator, and literary figure born in Beirut. She had a son, who died as an infant, and a daughter with her first husband. Sā’igh taught to support her daughter after her separation from her husband, and wrote openly about women’s issues in a number of newspapers and magazines. She also published a number of literary works, some of which we have no remaining evidence of. In 1939, Sā’igh immigrated to Brazil to search for her missing brother, who died soon after her arrival. She lived in Brazil for eight years before returning to Beirut. In Brazil, Sā’igh learned Portuguese and joined the literary movement “al-‘Uṣba al-Andalusiyya” (The Andalusian League). Around 1947, Sā’igh returned to Beirut and founded the organization “al-Nahḍa al-nisā’iyya” (The Women’s Awakening), which brought women together to reject sectarianism and advocate for religious pluralism and unity in Lebanon. She also directed Orthodox Christian charity schools in Beirut. In the 1940s and 1950s, Sā’igh hosted a prominent literary salon at her home in Beirut, which was attended by some of the leading literary figures of the era. Sā’igh died in Beirut in 1953 from pneumonia.

Salwā Salāma was born in Homs, Syria in 1883. After attending a school for girls, she taught in Homs and later Zahle, in the region of Mount Lebanon, and published some of her writing. She married writer Jūrj Aṭlas in 1913; on their honeymoon, the couple was forced to stay in Brazil due to the outbreak of World War I. Shortly after their arrival in Brazil, Salāma and her husband founded the magazine al-Karma (A Vinha, The Vineyard), which later became the official publication of the prominent Syrian social club, al-Nādī al-Homsi, founded by Aṭlas and several others in 1920. The club was home to the Syrian community in Brazil, and was attended by writers who would later go on to establish prominent literary societies, including al-‘Uṣba al-Andalusiyya (The Andalusian League). In addition to being editor and owner of al-KarmaI and playing a prominent role in the Syrian community in Brazil, Salwā published collections of her short stories and speeches during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. She opened a school in São Paulo in 1914 and became headmistress at the city’s Syrian orphanage.

Afīfa Karam (1883-1924) emigrated from her hometown of Amchit, Lebanon to Shreveport, Louisiana when she was 14 years old. In Louisiana, Karam learned English and literary Arabic. As a teenager, Karam began publishing articles in the New York City-based Arabic newspaper al-Hodā (Guidance). By age 22, she directed her own column dedicated to the discussion of women’s issues, and was later appointed editor-in-chief of the newspaper for six months. Karam founded the first Arabic women’s journals outside of the Arab world, al-Imrā’a al-Sūriyya (The Syrian Woman) and al-‘Ālam al-Jadīd al-Nisā’ī (The New World: A Ladies’ Monthly Arabic Magazine), both of which circulated internationally. In addition to publishing some of the first Arabic novels– predating by several years what is generally recognized as the “first Arabic novel,” Zaynab (1914) by Egyptian author Muhammad Husayn Haykal– Karam translated several novels from English to Arabic. In her Arabic novels, which were published between 1906 and 1910, Karam articulated her feminist politics. Through immigrant stories of love and romance, Karam criticized social conventions and defended women’s rights. Karam died at age 41 of a cerebral hemorrhage. Letters sent to al-Hodā after her death praised Karam as a leader of the women’s movement and of the “women’s literary awakening” (“al-nahḍa al-adabiyya al-nisā’iyya”).

Scope/Content Note

The Elizabeth Saylor Collection of Books by Women Arabic Writers contains eight volumes of essays, speeches, and novels written by Salmā Sā’igh, Salwā Salāma, and Afīfa Karam.

Included are Al-Nasamāt, النسمات [Breezes], a collection of essays written by Salma Sa'igh and published in Beirut in 1923; Al-Kalimāt Al-Khālida, الكلمات الخالدة [Sincere Words], a collection of speeches and writings by Salwá Salāma Aṭlas published in Sao Paolo in 1923; Fāṭima al-Badawiyya [Fatima the Bedouin], Afifa Karam’s second novel, published in New York City in 1908; and Ghādat ‘Amshīt, غادة عمشيت[The Girl from ‘Amshit], Afifa Karam's last novel, published in New York City in 1910. The other four volumes are not online due to copyright.


Elizabeth Saylor


Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies




Collection Guide content contributed by Elizabeth Saylor, 2017.
Collection Guide updated by Allison Hall, 2023 November.


The Khayrallah Center claims only physical ownership of the materials. Due to the nature of archival collections, information about copyright and rights ownership in the materials may be difficult to find despite reasonable efforts. Nonexclusive right to authorize uses of these materials for non-commercial research, scholarly, or other educational purposes are granted to Khayrallah Center pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. Usage of the materials for these purposes must be fully credited with the source. The user assumes full responsibility for any use of the materials.




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Collection Tree

This collection is a part of a larger collection that has been divided into more specific collections.

General Reference Collections
Karam_Fatimah al-Badawiyya_SM.pdf
Elizabeth Saylor Collection of Books by Women Arabic Writers