Nawal El Saadawi, a psychiatrist and novelist writing in Arabic, is the author of more than 40 books, which have been translated, acclaimed, and awarded around the world. She delivered the fourth annual Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture at the 2009 PEN World Voices Festival. Ahead of the 2012 PEN World Voices event, Understanding Egypt, on Thursday May 3, we continue our 90th anniversary celebration with the details of her inspiring life.

Nawal El Saadawi was born in Egypt in October 1931. She studied medicine at the University of Cairo and graduated as a doctor in 1955. Her first novel,Memoirs of a Woman Doctor, was published in 1958.

After practicing as a doctor for 10 years she became Director of the Government Health Education Department in 1966 where she stayed until her dismissal for political activism in 1972. The following year her acclaimed novel Woman at Point Zero was published, followed in 1977 by the non-fiction book, The Hidden Face of Eve.

In 1981 Nawal El Saadawi was arrested and imprisoned for “crimes against the state.” She was released in 1983 and then published Memoirs From The Women’s Prison, a compilation of essays written while incarcerated.

Since then El Saadawi has continued to write and promote women’s rights. She is one of the best known rights activists in Egypt, and is frequently invited to address seminars and take part in literary events worldwide. However in 1993, she was forced to flee Egypt due to threats from Islamic fundamentalists. Saadawi returned to her homeland three years later and in 2004 put herself forward as a candidate for Egypt’s presidential elections (though she later withdrew from the race citing “unfair” restrictions on candidates). She continues to receive threats and attacks for her books. In 2007, she was threatened with the loss of her Egyptian citizenship by a case brought before the court by fundamentalist lawyer Saad Sharif. The State Council’sCourt of Administrative Justice threw the case out in May 2008, stating that citizens had the right to hold and profess dissident beliefs.