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Ghada El-Samman: A Profile from the Archives

[Ghada El-Samman. Source: Laha magazine] [Ghada El-Samman. Source: Laha magazine]

[”A Profile from the Archives“ is a series published by Jadaliyya in both Arabic and English in cooperation with the Lebanese newspaper, Assafir. These profiles will feature iconic figures who left indelible marks in the politics and culture of the Middle East and North Africa. This profile was originally published in Arabic and was translated by Mazen Hakeem.] 

First Name: Ghada

Last Name: El-Samman

Father’s Name:

Mother’s Name: Salma Rweeha

Year of Birth: 1942

Nationality: Syrian/Lebanese

Place of Birth: Damascus

Category: Writer

Profession: Author

Ghada El-Samman

  • Syrian national; holds Lebanese citizenship.
  • One of the most famous female Arab writers and the most dauntless of all. She left a noticeable trace on modern Arabic literature.
  • Born in 1942 in Al-Shamiyeh village, near Damascus.
  • Her father, Ahmad El-Samman, was a university professor and the Dean of the Faculty of Law, and then the Minister of Education.
  • Her mother, Salma Rweeha, is from Lattakia.
  • Her brother is Bisher, and her sister is Zolfa.
  • Studied at the French School in Damascus; then at Al-Tajheez school where she obtained her high school diploma–scientific branch. Her father wanted her to become a doctor but she rebelled against his desire and joined the Department of English Language in the College of Arts at Damascus University.
  • Worked in a library and as an English teacher in one of the secondary schools in Damascus while she was still studying at college.
  • Worked as a lecturer in Damascus University and as a journalist and as a program coordinator at Damascus Radio Station.
  • In 1964, immediately after her graduation from Damascus University, she went to Beirut where she obtained her master’s degree from the American University in 1966. Her thesis was entitled “Literature of Absurdism.”
  • Between 1966 and 1969, she lived and travelled between Lebanon and Europe. She had a dispute with her family because of her insistence on her individual and financial independence.
  • Sentenced to three months in prison because, according to Syrian law, she left Syria without permission while still an employee. She was notified of the sentence in absentia while she was in London. She was fired from her job as a reporter for one of the Lebanese magazines immediately afterwards.
  • Started publishing stories in 1960. She published her first story in the Syrian newspaper Al-Akhbar. She then started publishing her stories in Arabic newspapers, particularly in the Lebanese magazine Al-Osboo’ Al-Arabi, until she became the most renowned name in the Arab world.
  • Got married to Dr. Bashir Al-Da’ook, the owner of Dar Al-Taleea for Printing and Publishing, in 1970. They have one son, Hazem.
  • Lived in Beirut during the peak of its cultural and urban prosperity. She contributed immensely in cultural activities and became one of the most prominent Arab novelists.
  • Left Beirut for Paris in 1976 after the outbreak of the civil war in Lebanon in 1975 and the deteriorating security in the capital. She frequently visited Lebanon until she finally settled in Paris in 1984. She started writing the last page on a weekly basis for Al-Hawadeth magazine.
  • In 1993, she caused a great stir in literary and political circles after she published a number of love letters written for her by Ghassan Kanafani in the 1960s. They were bound by a romantic relationship which was not undisclosed at the time.
  • Founded a publishing house under the name "Publications of Ghada El-Samman."
  • Collected her press articles in a series she called The Incomplete Works. It was published in fifteen books. She has nine books of poetic texts.
  • Her unpublished archive, which she put in a safe in one of the Swiss banks, includes a vast collection of letters.
  • Her works were translated into English, French, Polish, Spanish, Russian, Romanian, Italian, German, Persian, and Yugoslav among others.
  • After her husband died in 2007 and Al-Hawadeth magazine was discontinued, she has lived in seclusion in Paris and stopped publishing.



  • Departure of the Old Ports (1960); raheel al-marafi’ al-qadeemah.
  • Your Eyes Are My Destiny (1962); a’inak qadree.
  • Night of Strangers (1966); layl al-ghorabaa’.
  • Time of the Other Love (1978); zaman al-hob al-akhar.
  • he Body Is a Travel Suitcase (1979); al-jasad haqeebat safar.
  • Occupied Depths (1987): al-a’maq al-mohtallah.
  • Squared Moon (1994) Novels; al-qamar al-moraba’.
  • Beirut 1975 (1975).
  • Nightmares of Beirut (1976); kawabees beirut.
  • No Sea in Beirut (1962); la bahr fi beirut.
  • Exile Below Zero (1986); ghorbah tahta al-cifer.
  • Night of One Billion (1986); laylat al-millyar.
  • Loitering Inside a Wound (1988); tassako’ dakhel jorh.
  • The Impossible Novel: Damascene Mosaic (1997); al-riwayeh al-mostaheelah: fosayfosa’ dimashqieh.
  • Soiree Masquerade for the Dead (2003); sahrah tanakorrya lilmawtah.
  • Interrogating a Mutineer (2011); istijwab motamarredah.
    Poetry and Other Articles and Writings
    • Love (1973); hob.
  • I Declared Love on You – articles (1976); a’lnto al-hob a’laik.
  • Arresting a Runway Moment – poetry (1978); i’tikal lahzah haribah.
  • Stamping Memory with Sealing Wax (1979); khatom al-thakira bil-sham’i al-ahmar.
  • A Citizen Red-Handed in Reading (1979); mwatinah motalbisah bil-qira’a.
  • Swimming in the Devil’s Lake (1979); al-sibaha fi bohairat al-shaitan.
  • The Incomplete Works (1979); al-a’mal ghair al-kamilah.
  • Uncommitted Writings (1980); kitabat ghair moltazimah.
  • Siren Inside My Head (1980); saffarat inthar dakhel ra’si.
  • A Loaf of Bread Beating Like a Heart (1980); al-ragheef yanbodo kal-qalb.
  • A. G. Gazing (1980); a’in ghain tatafarras.
  • A Tribe Interrogating the Slain (1981); al-qabeelah tastajweb al-qateelah.
  • I Testify Against the Wind – poetry (1978); ashhad a’ks al-reeh.
  • The Antidote – poetry (1991); al-toryak.
  • The Sea Suing a Fish – Discussions (1986); al-bahr yohakem samakah.
  • Love from Vein to Vein – poetry (1980); al-hob mina al-wareed ila al-wareed.
  • Exile Below Zero (1986): ghorbah tahta al-cifer.
  • Desire of Wings – journey literature (1995); shahwat al-ajniha.
  • A Lover in an Inkwell – poetry (1995); a’shiqa fi mahbarah.
  • Yearning Letters for Jasmine – poetry (1996); rasa’il al-haneen ila al-yasameen.

Books About El-Samman

  • Ghada El-Samman Without Wings, Ghali Shokri (1977); ghada el-samman bila ajniha. 
  • Ghada El-Samman Love and War, Ilham Ghali (1980); ghada el-samman al-hob wa al-harb.
  • Arab Issues in Ghada El-Samman’s Literature, Hanan Audi (1980); qadaya arabiya fi adab ghada el-samman.
  • Ghada El-Samman’s Narrative Literature, Abdul Aziz Sabil (1987); al-fan al-riwa’i i’nda ghada el-samman.
  • Liberating Women in the Works of Ghada and Simone de Beauvoir, Najlaa Al-Ikhtyar (in French 1990).
  • Ghada El-Samman’s Mutiny and Commitment, Paolo Di Capua (in Italian 1991).
  • Ghada El-Samman in Her Incomplete works, Abdul Al-Latif Al-Arnaout (1993); ghada el-samman fi a’maliha ghair al-kamilah.
  • Sex in Ghada El-Samman’s Literature, Wafik Gharizi (2011); aljins fi adab ghada el-samman.

Her Positions

  • “I write about a nation which was the master of the house whereas his grandchildren have become beggars at the doors of civilizations,” Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, 14 November 1995.
  • “A novel does not become impossible until it is written,” Annhar, 25 September 1997.
  • “I’m a women without masks. Freedom is the key to my life,” Al-Watan Al-Arabi, 27 February 1998.
  • “I’m flared up, confused, tormented, injuring and injured in order to keep on writing,” Annhar, 19 October 1999.
  • “I’m Madame Beauvoir. I write what pleases me when it pleases me. I take pleasure in committing my mistakes,” Annhar appendix, 20 November 1999.
  • “I desire the liberation of women, not the subdual of men,” Al-Shiraa, 13 March 2000.
  • “Love is always fascinating. The best thing in a man is his flings because they prove he’s still alive.” Al-Syasah, 9 December 2001.
  • “My father protected my wings and I built my future using stones of the past.” Al-Anwar, 3 March 2002.
  • “Each novel for me is an independent adventure because I’m an amateur and experimental writer, not a professional who dumps novels in a product incubator.” Al-Mustakbal, 18 February 2003.
  • My homeland is not where my airplane lands. It’s the cloud that my heart inhabits.” Al-Qabas, 19 July 2005.“Why is it that when we learn how to write, it becomes mandatory for us to learn how to die.” Laha magazine, 25 June 2008.
  • “Literature is not prattle. It’s a written word that may stay or may get lost on road sand.” Al-Shiraa’, 5 December 2011

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