Professor Marilyn Booth

Subject: Arabic Language and Literature

Department: Oriental Studies

College appointment: Khalid bin Abdullah Al Saud Professor in the Study of the Contemporary Arab World

Academic position: Professor and Director of Research, Faculty of Oriental Studies



01865 278208


I grew up in the United States but was very fortunate to spend a year in Beirut, Lebanon at the age of twelve, and that convinced me that Arabic would be part of my future. I completed a BA at Harvard-Radcliffe College in Near Eastern Studies and decided that research excited me more than the public affairs career I had thought I would pursue. I came to Oxford on a Marshall Scholarship and completed a DPhil at St. Antony’s College on an Egyptian oppositional poet and journalist, working with Albert Hourani and Mustafa Badawi, and then spent two productive years at St Hugh’s College, as Joanna Randall-McIver Junior Research Fellow. I decided that I wanted to be back in the region I study, and so I moved to Egypt for a non-academic job and stayed for five years. I returned to the US and after some years of full-time parenting I took up teaching positions in the Comparative Literature departments at Brown University and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I moved in 2009 to Edinburgh as Iraq Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies, and in 2014 to New York University Abu Dhabi as Senior Humanities Research Fellow before joining the Magdalen community in summer 2015.


I am happy to advise Magdalen students pursuing degrees involving Middle Eastern languages, and more generally those attached to the Faculty of Oriental Studies.

My teaching takes place in the Oriental Studies Institute, Pusey Lane. I teach papers for students in FHS Arabic and the European and Middle Eastern Languages (EMEL) BA; and for masters’ students enrolled in the Modern Middle East Studies (MMES) MPhil, the MSc in Middle Eastern Studies, the masters in Women’s Studies, and the MSt in Comparative Literature and Critical Translation. I also contribute to the MPhil and MSt core papers.

Recently, these (combined) option papers have been: Gender and space in the Middle East (texts all in English translation); al-Nahda: Literature and cultural activism in the Arab 19th Century (primary texts in Arabic).


My main area of research has concerned nineteenth- and early-twentieth century feminism, women’s writing, and print media in Egypt and Ottoman Syria, which also involves studying the emergence of the Arabic novel. My forthcoming monograph is a study of the work and career of Zaynab Fawwaz (d. 1914), originally from south Lebanon but whose career unfolded in Egypt. I also continue to work on translation in the Ottoman Empire, heading a multilingual research group that has published one collection of essays, has another one the way, and is working on a multilingual anthology of works on gender in translation in the Ottoman Empire.

I have begun a research project on conduct and etiquette books in Egypt and Ottoman Syria, 1870s-1920s, and I am hoping to continue working on the comparative study of nineteenth-century feminisms around the Mediterranean and in south Asia, focusing on female readership, translation, and discourses of publishing. This also continues the work I’ve done on auto/biography in Arabic in the same period. Finally, I retain strong interest in vernacular writing and popular literature, specifically colloquial poetry, satirical prose, and caricature in the Egyptian press at the turn into the twentieth century. What links all of these topics is my concern with readerships, audiences, and transcultural networks, and the ways literary texts associated with noncanonical or marginalised genres and culture producers become important channels of public debate. I try to think about history as a series of conversations, in the back pages of newspapers, through romance novels, and with satirical poetry, and to ask how nineteenth-century Egyptians (for instance) read.
I am an active literary translator, mostly of contemporary Arabic fiction into English, and a translation activist concerned with literary translators’ conditions of work and their visibility (or not). I have written on issues of translation and have conducted some practice-based and activist-oriented research on contemporary practices of Arabic literary translation, especially first-author/second-author [translator] interactions and the politics of publishing and marketing.

I’ve translated 18 full-length works: novels, short stories, and memoirs. I was fortunate in 2019 to be the co-winner of the Man Booker International Prize, as translator of Jokha Alharthi’s Celestial Bodies.

Selected Publications


Special journal issues

Recent Book Chapters and Essays in Refereed Journals