Every year Leeuwarden UNESCO City of Literature invites writers from abroad for a residency in the city, and writers from Fryslân go on residency to other cities. From May 27 to June 30, writer Rasha Khayat from Hamburg lives and works in Leeuwarden.

Rasha Khayat, born in 1978 in Dortmund, Germany, grew up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Her father being Saudi and her mother German, she grew up between countries, cultures and languages from a very young age. In 1988 her whole family relocated to Germany. There, Rasha completed her education and went on to study Comparative Literature, German Literature and Philosophy at the University of Bonn. 

In 2022 Rasha wrote the story Uncle Ahmad’s armchair for Happiness Delayed, the story project of Leeuwarden UNESCO City of Literature during Arcadia 2022. Suzanne van Zwam read the story on August 5 in the garden of the Rixtpleats in Terbant. The story can still be read and listened to here. Uncle Ahmad’s Armchair is also included in the anthology with 32 of the 100 stories from Happiness Delayed.

Reading, writing and exploring questions of heritage, (be)longing and the power of language have always been a big part of her everyday life. So after university, she worked as an editor and translator and published her first pieces. After a phase of extensive travel in the Middle East in the mid-2000s, she started working on her first novel, which then was published in 2016 as „Weil wir längst woanders sind“ (Because we’re elsewhere now). It received a number of accolades  and was translated into multiple languages. The novel explores the idea of what „origin“ or „heritage“ might mean to the individual, by telling the story of siblings Layla and Basil who, despite a shared family history, choose different paths in life and different ways of dealing with their (be)longing. 

Her new novel Ich komme nicht zurück (I am not coming back) will be published in August 2024 and looks into the question of what kind of connection between friends is actually possible if they come from different backgrounds. The novel tells of grief and loneliness and the earthquake that was 9/11 for many muslim kids in Germany. 

Apart from writing, she works as a translator and as creative writing instructor both for Universities and high schools. Since 2022, she also hosts the feminist literature podcast Fempire – About women who write/Fempire – über Frauen, die schreiben.

In Leeuwarden she is very much looking forward to connecting with the local literature and arts community, learn about the community and literature, plans to work on a translation project of her own work and maybe, hopefully, find inspiration and an idea for a new novel. Would you like to meet her? Email Tryntsje van der Steege, project leader at Leeuwarden UNESCO City of Literature: Tryntsje@leeuwardencityofliterature.nl.

Follow Rasha on Instagram to read about her adventures in Leeuwarden or read her diary:
Diary part 1
Diary part 2

Previously, writers Carolina Pihelgas from Estonia and Guim Valls from Catalonia were writers in residence in Leeuwarden. Also view the current open calls for residencies abroad.

Foto: Natalia Balanina