Every writer has changed these stories, and I have changed them, and I’m sure someone else in I don’t know how many years will change them. These stories refuse to die—they are always expanding and shrinking, they have an organic life of their own. Usually, Arab women writers look down on Shahrazad, saying “Oh, she became a prisoner of the Shah, the bloodthirsty king.” No, in my opinion, she was stronger, he became her prisoner. He needed her stories; he depended on her to humanize him. She wasn’t doing it to save her life, but to educate him. That was what she set out to do, to humanize him.
Hanan al-Shaykh’s new retelling of One Thousand and One Nights (with an intro by Mary Gaitskill!) comes out next month.
But whereas being a female reporter was once synonymous with tenacity, superior intellect, and wit, today’s fictional female reporter serves as shorthand for new media reporter/blogger: young, naïve, and morally bankrupt.