Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Hakawati

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The Hakawati

By Rabih Alameddine

The Hakawati
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2008,
    528 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2009,
    528 pages.

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Beyond the Book

A Thousand and One Nights
Once upon a time, not terribly long ago, hakawatis, or storytellers, were commonplace fixtures on Middle Eastern streets. As coffee-drinking gained popularity in Ottoman times, the hakawatis moved from the streets into the coffee houses. Hakawatis were paid by the owners of the coffee houses to draw customers, and the best could also expect tips from their audience. Hakawatis were known for their dramatic performances, and were consummate entertainers. The rise of radio and television brought the demise of this ancient Arab tradition of public storytelling, and hakawatis all but disappeared from the Middle East by the 1970's. Listen to an NPR interview with the last full-time hakawati in the Syrian capital of Damascus.

Hakawatis often worked from a text, improvising, embellishing, and adapting to their audience. A Thousand and One Nights (also known as Arabian Nights) served as the source for many hakawatis, and their tellings ...

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