Emily Nasrallah (Arabic: اميلي نصرالله, Imilī Naṣr Allāh), née Emily Abi Rached on 6 July 1931 in Kfeir, Lebanon; is a Lebanese writer and women's rights activist. Emily showed literary talents at an early age, she took up writing and journalism while still in college a talent for which she would receive great recognition. She graduated from the American University of Beirut in 1958 with a BA in education and literature, but soon achieved acclaim for her writing with the publication of her first novel, Birds of September, in 1962. The book earned her instant praise and three Arabic literary prizes. She became a prolific writer, publishing many novels, children’s stories and short story collections touching on themes such as family, village life, war, emigration and women’s rights. The latter has been a subject she has maintained support for throughout her life.
Emily Daoud Abi Rached was born in the small village of al-Kfeir (at the western foot of Mount Hermon in southern Lebanon) on 6 July 1931 to Loutfa, née Abou Nasr and her husband Daoud Abi Rached. The eldest of six children, Emily grew up working in the village fields with her parents; an experience that would have later echoes in her writings. Little Emily watched the village emptying and family members emigrating in search for greener pastures especially that the village offered feeble educational and professional prospects. Kfeir’s public school only received students at the age of six but four-year-old Emily's passion for learning drove her to eavesdrop on the classes, the school being adjacent to her parental home. Emily used to recite the poems and stories she heard to her father and his friends. Emily's maternal uncle Ayub Abou Nasr, a fellow of the New York Pen League took special interest in Emily's education when he returned from emigration due to a neurological illness; he quickly recognized the little girl's talent and encouraged her learning. Ayub would often ask Emily to write descriptive essays - of Mount Hermon for example - which helped broaden her imagination and further her writing skills.
After finishing her studies at the elementary public school of the village which only offered education till the third elementary grade at that time, Emily wrote a letter to her second maternal uncle, an expatriate businessman in West Virginia expressing her interest in pursuing higher education and explaining her family's dire financial circumstances that prevented her from paying private schooling fees. Emily's uncle granted her wish and paid for her tuition. Emily left her hometown when she was sixteen years of age to pursue her education at the Choueifat National College, a boarding school in the suburbs of Beirut. She studied in the Choueifat school for four years, during this period her passion for literature deepened as she became an avid reader. Emily compensated for the absence of a library in her hometown with spending many hours at the Choueifat school library; since she had no resources to buy books, Emily resorted to smuggling Mikha'il Na'ima and Khalil Gibran books - who would influence her writing career greatly - from the college library in order to read them illicitly in her bed. Young Emily's fondness of reading was ever-growing, she admitted enjoying the 'interesting reading material' found in the journal and magazine shreds that enveloped dragées and other sweets.
Emily credits Nassim Nasser her Arabic language teacher in helping to develop her writing skills and orienting her through his 'red correction pen harsh criticism' as Emily puts it. Nassim Nasser was the first to publish Emily's writings in the Telegraph a local Beirutine magazine between the years 1949-1950; he also encouraged and selected Emily to participate in composition and rhetoric contests.
After graduation, Emily's parents wanted her to come back to Kfeir and teach at the village school as they did not wish for her to live alone in the city; Emily decided otherwise, she came back to Beirut where she tutored Edvique Shayboub's children. Edvique, editor in chief of Sawt al Mar'a (Woman's voice) magazine, helped Emily in her career as she offered her the opportunity to publish articles in her magazine and encouraged her to settle in Beirut.
In 1955, Amal Makdessy Kortas (director of the Ahliah school) offered Emily a job and lodging at the school in Wadi Abu Jamil; she taught for two hours daily at the school where Hanan al-Shaykh had been her pupil. Emily fell short from paying her college education tuition and was financially aided by her friend and colleague at the Ahlia school Jalila Srour. In addition to teaching at the Ahliah school, Emily had to tutor, write magazine articles in Sawt al Mar'a and lend her voice to the national radio (al-itha'a al-lubnaniyya) to repay her debt to Jalila and pay for her college education at the Beirut College for Women and the American University of Beirut where she majored with a Bachelor of Arts in education and literature in 1958.
In 1955, Emily was introduced to Jacqueline Nahas, a journalist at as-Sayyad publishing house and started her 15 years long career at as-Sayyad (the hunter) magazine writing in the society news section; she also contributed articles to Al Anwar newspaper. Between 1973 and 1975, Emily worked as cultural and public relation consultant at the Beirut University College before joining Fayruz magazine from 1981 till 1987 as feature editor.
Emily married Philip Nasrallah, a chemist from Zahleh in 1957 while still in college. The couple had four children: Ramzi, Maha, Khalil, and Mona. Emily never left Beirut even at the height of the Lebanese civil war, she became one of the Beirut Decentrists. Emily currently lives in Verdun, an exclusive Beiruty neighborhood.
Emily's A cat's diary figured on the on the 1998 IBBY honor list. The book depicts the horrors of war in Beirut from the viewpoint of Zicco (Zeeko) a Siamese cat and his friend, the girl Mona.
On August 28 2017, the Goethe-Institut awarded Nasrallah with the Goethe Medal, an official decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany honoring non-Germans for meritorious contributions in the spirit of the Institute.