Member Spotlight

Featured Scholar: Yasmine Motawy, PhD (ymotawy@aucegypt.edu)

Yasmine Motawy is a senior instructor in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at The American University in Cairo. She has a BA and MA in comparative literature from AUC and a PhD from Cairo University (2012) in comparative literature with a dissertation on ideology in contemporary Egyptian and British children’s literature.

Motawy was on the board of the Egyptian Board on Books for Young People (EBBY) from its revival in 2012 until 2018. She has served on the 2016 and 2018 Hans Christian Andersen Award jury and the 2017 Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature jury, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Book Club (2019-2020), and the 2021 Bologna Ragazzi Award jury. In 2018 she was the recipient of the Mellon Foundation postdoctoral grant where she supported interdisciplinary Arabic language knowledge production around Egyptian children’s literature. Her Arabic monograph Silence Between the Waves: Children’s Picturebooks and Contemporary Egyptian Society (2021), is on the ideology presented in picturebooks written in Egypt in the last twenty years.

She is interested in picturebooks, speculative fiction, Cairo in cinema and fiction, Arab YA fiction, service learning, teaching children’s writing, life narratives, and the creative writing process. In previous lives, Motawy worked in the corporate world and trained for three years to be a member of the Lakeland College of Homeopathy

1: Tell us a little about yourself, what is your academic background? Current academic/professional position?

I have taught Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo since 2006. I am an educator, translator, scholar, editor, consultant, and writing mentor in the area of children’s literature.

2: How did you become interested in focusing on young people or topics associated with young people?

Well, I think it’s the usual story, I grew up an avid reader in a house with a lot of books and my mother was a painter among other things, so I think I was prepared to appreciate the picturebook form in particular.

At the time I was considering topics for my PhD, I was also having my own children and filling my home with picturebooks, but I was quite blind to the possibility of writing about them. I drafted one PhD proposal on children in Palestinian cinema and another on narratives of growing up as an immigrant child, but I was still not sure.

One day I was talking to my friend, professor Nadia Elkholy, who was already working in the field and she asked me why I was hovering around the topic of children without considering making a real contribution to the largely undocumented literature being produced for Egyptian children at the time. I asked her to become my PhD supervisor at once.

3: What scholars and scholarship have been influential in shaping your learning and work?

In 2009, I presented at my first children’s literature conference, the IRSCL conference in Frankfurt, and I was struck by how accessible the scholars that I had until then encountered as “seminal sources” and “important voices” were. The field is a young exciting one that is taking interesting turns all the time and I think that makes it vibrant and welcoming of young scholars.

There are so many scholars whose work influences the way I approach books, but after that conference, I plucked enough nerve to begin a correspondence with John Stephens who had been a keynote speaker and who was a scholar I really admired. Much to my delight, he responded with a long thorough thoughtful email, and over the years, we have developed an incredibly generous exchange of resources, thoughts, advice sought, advice given, and over a two year period, we worked onThe Routledge Companion to International Children’s Literature project together. John models academic generosity, conscientiousness, collegiality, and intellectual curiosity for me.

4: What topics associated with young people are you currently working on or what have you worked on?

I have previously written on children’s New Media, utopian imaginings, activism, representations of Muslim children, prizing, books for children in crisis, civic engagement in children’s books, and crossover fiction in various edited collections and peer reviewed journals. I most recently worked on the question of self-authorship in reverse migration in Arabic YA novels, and co-authored an article with scholars and collaborators Julie McAdam, Susanne Abou Ghaida, Evelyn Arizpe, and Lavinia Hirsu on the work carried out through a Children’s Literature in Critical Contexts of Displacement (CLCCD) network funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council–Global Challenges Research Fund. I also have a forthcoming article on cognitive perspectives on death in contemporary Arabic picturebooks.

I also prioritize making information about children’s literature accessible, and combine this goal with my deep curiosity about the creative process, and contribute regular journalistic interviews with artists, authors, and publishers in the field.

5: How does your work enrich scholarship on childhood/youth? What impact in how we understand childhood/youth do you hope to provide in your work?

Well, I published my book in Arabic first, so that it would be a starting point for a number of conversations in the local children’s literature scene. Because I have worked various angles of the field and witnessed a shift in the landscape in the last twenty years, I wanted to document what I saw as a ‘new wave’ of Egyptian picturebooks on one hand, and look at the ideology evident in these cultural and educational artefacts on the other hand. The hope is that I continue to produce cross-disciplinary knowledge in Arabic that illuminates where and how we could be developing Arab children/YA literature that promotes intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, civic engagement, and other 21st century skills.

6: What areas in childhood/youth studies do you see as needing further work/research?

In the Arab world, there is so much that can be done: databases, bibliographies, participatory research on the ground, and critical scholarship are all welcome.


Scholar Spotlight Compiled by: Matthew Parnell, Elizabeth Saleh, and Heidi Morrison