Unpacking Saʿdallāh Wannūs’ Private Library: On the (After)Lives of Books

In: Journal of Arabic Literature
Sonja Mejcher-Atassi American University of Beirut

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The private library of the Syrian playwright and public intellectual Saʿdallāh Wannūs (1941-1997) arrived at the American University of Beirut in 2015. This article sets out to read Wannūs through his library. After presenting a brief overview of the books in Wannūs’ library, their subject matter, and their provenance, it examines personal book inscriptions, which unravel a rich intellectual network and provide insight into Wannūs’ trajectory and recognition as a playwright and public intellectual. It then explores the conditions under which Wannūs’ library came into existence and flourished in a Syria marked by the Baʿth party and the al-Asad regime’s authoritarian control of the political and cultural fields, under which it migrated from Damascus to Beirut in the wake of the 2011 Syrian revolution-turned-war. Wannūs’ library, the article argues, opened an Arabic and world literary space, both physical and metaphorical, from which Wannūs emerged as a modern Arabic and world-renowned playwright.

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