A poetess caught between modernity and tradition
She is one of a kind. A soft-spoken, attractive, enlightened and philosophical woman, Badia Kashghari, a Saudi poetess, is a master of words. Since the publication of her first diwan [collection of poetry] in 1994, she has been in the spotlight in many of the Kingdom's literary circles.
Born and brought up in Taif, Kashghari came to Jeddah to study English Literature at King Abdul Aziz University. For her, this was a major step that influenced her life and shaped her already unconventional thoughts. 'Even at a young age, I was considered an outcast because I was always so idealistic and rebellious,' she says.
Since her graduation in 1977, Kashghari has worked as a teacher, writer, journalist and also in the fields of academic and industrial training. In 1989 she became the first woman writer to be appointed to the staff of the oldest magazine in the Kingdom, Saudi Aramco's Al Qafila [The Caravan]. She is now in addition a frequent contributor of articles and poetry to local and foreign Arabic magazines and newspapers.
Her first diwan, When the Sand Blossoms, is a collection of poetry written over the course of 20 years and composed both in Saudi Arabia and during her frequent travels abroad.
'We Saudi women have struggled a great deal to get where we are today.' she says. 'I have always had two challenges as a female and a poet. The first was to define my female role and the second to convey my message to society... I have a responsibility to educate and better myself as well as to do the same for other women.'
Kashghari has fought to have an active role in society. She frequently attends and gives poetry recitals. As she puts it, sharing her creativity with others is part of the process of self-expression. 'Sometimes I write out of purely personal experience or I reflect upon a particular state of mind. Or sometimes, I find myself writing about my gender as a whole.'
Many recognized members of the Arab intellectual community, including the well-known Iraqi poet, Nizar Kabbani, have written of womens' experiences. Kabbani, among others, has been a great influence on Kashghari -- which she admits -- but she always insists on using her own words to convey her emotions and observations.
In Kashghari's opinion, she is one of many intellectuals in this country who have postponed their creative writing until they have proved themselves worthy of the challenge posed to them by rapid modernization. In her writings, Kashghari mostly vents her feelings as a woman and in her exploration of the relationships between males and females, she provides a uniquely feminine Arab insight. She sees men and women as complementing each other. 'Writing is the driving force of my existence. It is an intense moment when there is a calling from within to express something that has touched me deeply, whether out of pain or pleasure.'
The struggle between modernity and tradition, characteristic of the Saudi intellectual movement, is evident in her emotional prose. She uses traditional