Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


One Thousand and One Nights in the Contemporary Imagination: Hanan al-Shaykh's "Retelling" & the Invention of the Classical Tradition


Modern Languages & Literatures Department


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Arts and Humanities


This paper examines al-Shakhs Retellingof stories from the famous Alf layla wa layla. Taking into account Burtons translation, this paper studies how al-Shaykhs retelling is not simply a contemporary translation, but rather a reinterpretation of the classical work, which not only reinvents it for a contemporary audience, but also reinterprets the classical tradition of Alf layla wa layla and the contemporary Arabic traditions connection to it. My argument is that this reinterpretation is done through the selection of stories and the structure of the book as a whole. Although both Burton and al-Shaykh include selected stories, my contention is that the selected stories are in both cases subject to different interpretations of the work as a whole. Building on Gaitskills observation that al-Shaykhs retelling does not end with Shahrazads transformation from storyteller to wife and mom, my paper intends to explore the significance of this structural difference between Burton and al-Shaykh as a central piece in the latters reinterpretation of the work as a whole. My paper analyzes the frame story of Shahrazad and Shahrayar, arguing that the storys thematic focus reveals a contemporary reading of the work that aims to build a bridge to the classical tradition. While the Burton translation maintains the original structure that has three corresponding sections to the three stages in a rite of passage (separation, liminality, and reaggregation), al-Shaykhs retelling differs greatly through the removal of the conclusion story. My work will build on studies on Alf layla wa layla, including Fedwa Multi-Douglass Womans Body, Womans Word, Muhsin al-Musawis The Islamic Context of The Thousand and One Nights, A.S. Byatts Introduction to Burtons translation, and Mary Gaitski forward to al-Shaykhs retelling.

Conference Name

DAVO Congress of Contemporary Research on the Middle East

Conference Location

Cologne, Germany

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