Youssef Rakha is a novelist, poet, essayist and journalist who writes in both Arabic and English. His interests include the role of obscenity in Arab society and the possibility of a post-Muslim perspective. His first two novels The Book of the Sultan’s Seal and The Crocodiles appeared in English in early 2015. Frequently anthologized and translated into many languages, he has written widely on Arabic literature and Egyptian history.
Youssef’s 2006 photo travelogue Beirut Shi Mahal was nominated for the Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage. He was among the 39 best Arab writers under 40 selected for the Hay Festival Beirut39 Festival in 2010. His first novel, The Book of the Sultan’s Seal, won the 2015 Banipal Seif Ghobash Prize for Paul Starkey’s translation, and his third, Paulo, was on the long list of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2017 and won the 2017 Sawiris Award.
Here is the complete, updated bibliography of Youssef’s books.
Born, raised and based in Cairo, Youssef graduated from Hull University, England, in 1998. He has worked as a cultural journalist, literary translator, and creative writing coach since then. He founded and edited тнє ѕυℓтαη’ѕ ѕєαℓ: Cairo's Coolest Cosmopolitan Hotel, a bilingual online space, till it was discontinued in 2023.
Youssef’s writing is featured in many web and print publications including The Atlantic, BOMB, Guernica, The Kenyon Review, and The New York Times. He has been interviewed in, among many others, Music and Literature, Reuters and Words Without Borders, and his work is celebrated in Electra, Full Stop, Granta, Reorient, The New York Review of Books, and many others.
His work has prompted appearances in, among many other events across the world, the Hay Festival in the UK (2011), the Ritratti di Poesia in Rome (2015), the Internationales Literaturfestival Leukerbad in Switzerland (2016), La Comédie du livre in Montpellier, France (2017), and Dubai's Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature's anniversary round (2018). He has judged film as well as writing competitions, and is on the jury of the True Story Award.
I finished your magnum opus two days ago, with tears in my eyes, and I’ve been intoxicated since, in the most Faridian sense of the word. Among other things, no one (REPEAT: NO ONE) has ever written so wondrously about love and sex in Arabic the way you did in the last two chapters of the novel, i.e. — making the Arabic language make love as it has never done before. Ibn al Farid should feel so comfortable, and so privileged, and so sexy in your company.
But that’s not your major achievement, No Sir. You managed to write a perfect (REPEAT: PERFECT) Arabic novel, on so many levels. Very few writers have done that, and to enter the Hall of Fame with a first novel is nothing short of miraculous. Your meticulous attention to what turns a text into a stunning novel is absolutely amazing, and your masterful control of all the aspects of your text is something that should be taught in writing programs.
But above all, I think, your major achievement is in being what Foucault would call “a discourse initiator” — someone who single handedly changes a discipline, and in this case the discipline of the Arabic novel. You are my al Jabarti of the Arabic novel.
—Anton Shammas on The Book of the Sultan's Seal