Podcasts: Hanan al-Shaykh and Ruth Padel discuss Scheherazade

Posted on: November 22, 2019 in: Programmes>2019-20 Season>London Season

In November, Arna Margrét Jónsdóttir (Marketing Assistant) and Elaine Baines (Chief Operating Officer) met with Hanan al-Shaykh and Ruth Padel to talk about our upcoming event of music and word at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, Scheherazade: A retelling for our timeson 1 December (3pm).

The legendary enchantress Scheherazade was a storyteller. As the ‘first female superhero’, she had the strength and ability to take on a Sheikh (an Arab leader) by using the power of creativity and telling him stories for 1,001 nights in order to postpone her execution. The stories are full of colour and have for centuries inspired many authors, poets and composers.

In our event, Hanan al-Shaykh and Ruth Padel are also joined by DBC Pierre, Daljit Nagra. Each author will share their original stories and poems written specially for our event, responding to one of the greatest masterpieces of the Arabic world, One Thousand and One Nights, and one of the most hypnotic works for orchestra, Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov.


Podcast: Hanan al-Shaykh discusses Scheherazade

Hanan al-Shaykh is one of the most acclaimed writers in the contemporary Arab World. She is the author of seven novels, as well as a collection of stories, and her work has been translated into 28 languages. In our podcast (SoundCloud, Apple Podcasts, etc), we discuss how Hanan rediscovered some of the One Thousand and One Nights stories she heard as a child when she was asked to dramatise it for the theatre by re-writing some of its episodes and stories. She later went on and published One Thousand and One Nights, an adaptation and re-imagining of some of the stories from the legendary Alf Layla Wa Layla.

According to Hanan, the most important thing the stories tell us are:

“It is showing us how to live our daily lives full of insight and moral and social values and rules and laws without the influence of religion, but derived from first-hand experience.”

The origins of the stories are rooted in Arabic Culture and were kept alive by travellers roaming around the world. The stories were later collected by various authors and scholars over several centuries – and are now one of the best known collection of stories in the world.

“Travellers used to go from one place to another and then what did they do, they would talk about stories […]. There were no books, no newspapers, no nothing – only travellers roaming around the world, so they tell each other stories. People sometimes wouldn’t believe there were oceans if they are in the desert, or the people who live next to oceans they wouldn’t dream that there are deserts with no water. This exchange of travellers [is how] people would understand about the world.”

Podcast: Ruth Padel discusses Scheherazade

Ruth Padel is an award-winning British poet, Professor of Poetry at King’s College London and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She was Chair of Judges for the 2016 T. S. Eliot Prize and Judge for the 2016 International Man Booker Prize. In our podcast (SoundCloud, Apple Podcasts, etc), we discuss the poem that Ruth has written specially for this occasion, entitled The Story-Teller, the Bedroom and the Sea.

Ruth’s poem is based on the frame story of One Thousand and One Nights and looks at how Scheherazade, as the first female superhero, uses the power of creativity to conquer injustice.

“I was absolutely thrilled to be offered this commission because it seems to combine feminism and the heroism of a young girl faced with male power, and art, the power of creativity, and indeed the problem that the West has with Orientalism, how we orientalise and fantasies about the other”. 

According to Ruth, one of the reasons that the stories have captivated and inspired so many are the images from the other side of the world and the journey they take us on to discover things not only about the world, but also about ourselves.

“I think that imagination which comes from the power of image – we are image making creatures, so we are very excited by images anyway. And these are images from the other side of the world and I think that is sort of crucial because then it makes us long to go out from ourselves into something else […]. There are all these stories of wanting to go to the sea. Why do we love the sea? Because it is the edge of the known and it is the beginning of a journey to the unknown and that is the power of poetry, that is metaphor. Metaphor is a leap into the unknown – it is joining what you know to what you don’t know. So, I think all is – ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ stories just sort of dug into all that part of our sense of imagination. It is not only escape, it is a journey to discover, discover things about the world and in so doing, perhaps discovering things about ourselves. But also, just to go beyond”.

Concert information

‘Scheherazade: A retelling for our times’ takes place at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on 1 December, 3pm (matinee).

Our London Season is supported by the Cockayne Foundation and John Ellerman Foundation.

Cockayne logo     John Ellerman Foundation

Be sure to keep up to date with all our activities on Twitter @cityldnsinfonia, and on Facebook and Instagram (@cityoflondonsinfonia). You can also visit our website for information on upcoming events, as well as our wellbeing and education projects.