Ghadah Al-Samman (Arabic: غادة السمّان) is a Syrian writer, journalist and novelist born in Damascus in 1942 to a prominent and conservative Damascene family, she is remotely related to Nizar Qabbani the famous poet. Her father was Ahmed Al-Samman, a president of the Syrian University. She was deeply influenced by him since her mother died at a very young age.
Her father was fond of both Western literature and Arabic literature; this influenced her deeply and gave her a unique style that combines attributes of both. Nevertheless, she soon was confronted with the conservative Damascene society in which she was raised and lived her early years.
She published her first book of short stories عيناك قدري “Your Eyes are my Destiny” in 1962 which was received reasonably well. However, she was lumped at the time with other traditional feminine writers. Her later publications took her out of the tight range of feminine and love novels to much wider social, feminist and philosophical extents.
She graduated from the Syrian University in 1963 with a BA in English Literature and left to Beirut to earn her master's degree in Theatre from American University of Beirut; since then she had not returned to Damascus.
In Beirut she worked in journalism and in 1965 she published her second collection لا بحر في بيروت “No Sea in Beirut” in which the effect of her new, now wider experiences are evident. She then traveled around Europe working as a correspondent and in 1966 published her third collection ليل الغرباء “Foreigners’ Nights” reflecting her experiences.
The Six-Day War had a shock effect on her as it did on many of her generation, this was evident in her famous article احمل عاري إلى لندن “I Carry My Shame to London”, after that she did not publish any books for six years but her journalistic articles became closer to the social reality and made her popular. The articles she wrote during that period became the source of some of her later publications.
In 1973 she published her fourth collection, رحيل المرافئ القديمة “The Departure of Old Ports”, considered by some critiques one of the most important of her works. In this collection of short stories she described in a literary fashion the dilemma of the Arab intellectual of the time and the conflict between his/her thought and actions. She published her first novel, بيروت 75 “Beirut 75” around the end of 1974. The novel describes the complex social problems in Beirut and started with a prophecy by one of the characters of the novel, a fortune teller that says: “I see blood, I see a lot of blood”. A few months later the civil war broke out in Lebanon.
After the publication of two more novels, كوابيس بيروت “Beirut Nightmares" in 1977, which describes life in civil-war-torn Beirut in the mid-Seventies, and ليلة المليار “The Eve of Billion” in 1986, she was referred to as the most prominent modern Arab writer by some critics.
In the late 1960s Ghada married Bashir Al Daouq, the owner of Dar Al Tali’a publishing house and had her only son, Hazim, which she named after one of her heroes in “Foreigners' Nights”. She later made her own publishing house and re-published most of her books, she also gathered all her articles in a series she called الأعمال غير الكاملة “The Unfinished Works”, up to date she has published fifteen books of it, nine of them are poetry collections. She has stored her unpublished works including many letters in a Swiss bank, which she promises to publish “when the time is right”.
It is believed that some of her letters may reveal some information about some prominent Palestinian writers and poets during the 1960s, of the people her name was linked with are: Nasir eDdin Al Nashashibi, the journalist and Kamal Nasir, the late poet.
In 1993 she caused a scene in the literary and political arenas when she published a collection of love letters written to her by Ghassan Kanafani in the sixties when she had a love affair with him, which was no secret at the time. She was condemned for publishing them by some claiming that her intention was to smear the late writer's reputation and/or to negatively affect the Palestinian Cause.
She has also written a few criticism books and translated some of her works to several worldwide languages. Ghada has been living in Paris since the mid-1980s and regularly writes in an Arabic magazine published in London. She refuses any invitations for TV interviews since she had a bad experience when she was interviewed in Cairo and found out that the interviewer had not read any of her works.
Ghada Al-Samman's mother died when she was young, so she was raised by her father for most of her life. When she was an adult, Samman's father died and she lost her job in a short period of time. She was left alone in the world. People in her society had a traditional frame of mind and saw her as a “fallen woman” (Vinson 4-6). At that time, she had no father or husband to care for and no family to care for her. This is when Samman became a strong advocate for liberty and self-expression for all people, but especially women. Samman is considered a feminist writer (Wordpress.com p. 3). She does not shy away from subjects seen by the public as taboo. She questions typical thought about women's sexuality and the freedoms enjoyed by the upper class (Vinson 9-10). Samman has as many critics as she has fans, but she takes the comments in stride and continues to write about beliefs and view points that most writers refuse to touch through her works of fiction. A large part of Ghada Al-Samman's identity is an able, determined woman and she intends to make anyone who will listen feel the same way.
Some of her works are:
- عيناك قدري ('Ayunak Qidray), “Your Eyes are my Destiny”, short stories, 1962.
- لا بحر في بيروت (La Bahr Fi Bayrut), “No Sea in Beirut”, short stories, 1965.
- ليل الغرباء (Layal Al Ghuraba), “Foreigners’ Nights”, short stories, 1966.
- حب (Hubb), “Love”, poetry, 1973.
- رحيل المرافئ القديمة (Rahil Al Murafa' Al Qadima), “The Departure of Old Ports”, short stories, 1973.
- بيروت 75 (Bayrut 75), “Beirut 75”, novel, 1974.
- أعلنت عليك الحب ('Alanat 'Alayk Hubb), “I Declare Love Upon You”, poetry, 1976.
- اعتقال لحظة هاربة~I'tikal Lahzah Haribah (Capturing Freedom's Cry), 1979. Translated into English by Rim Zahra, ph.D. & Razzan Zahra, Ph.D. as Capturing Freedom's Cry: Arab Women Unveil Their Heart, 2019.
- الأبديه لحظة حب~ Al-Abadiyya Lahzet Hubb(Eternity is a Moment of Love), 1999. Translated into English by Rim Zahra, Ph.D as Arab Women in Love and War: Fleeting Eternities, 2009.
- كوابيس بيروت (Kawabis Bayrut), “Beirut Nightmares”, novel, 1977.
- ليلة المليار (Laylat Al Miliyar), “The Eve of Billion”, novel, 1986.
- الرواية المستحيلة: فسيفسا ءدمشقية (Al Ruayah Al Mustahilah: Fasifasa' Dimashqiya), ”The Impossible Novel: Damascene Mosaic”, autobiography, 1997.
- القمر المربع: قصص غرائبية (Al Qamar Al Murabah: Qasas Al Gharibiyah), "The Square Moon: Supernatural tales", short stories, 1994.
- سهرة تنكرية للموتى (Sahra Tanakuriyah Al Mawta), “A Costume Party for the Dead”, 2003.