Skip to main content

Rebecca Johnson

Associate Professor of English and the Alice Kaplan Institute of the Humanities

Ph.D. Yale University


Rebecca C. Johnson (she/her/hers) is a scholar of comparative literature with a specialization in modern Arabic literature and literary culture. Her research focuses on literary exchanges between Arabic and European languages in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the history and theory of the novel, and studies of transnational literary circulation and translation. Her first book, Stranger Fictions: A History of the Novel in Arabic Translation, 1835-1913 (Cornell University Press, 2021), theorizes a cross-linguistic history of Arabic literary modernity by tracing the production and reception of translated fiction in the first decades of Middle Eastern novelistic production. Stranger Fictions argues for a new transnational history of the novel that places translation at its center, showing how Arabic translation techniques yielded sophisticated comments on the history and formal composition of the novel as a global genre, which was itself shaped by the inequalities that structure cross-cultural communications during the age of Empire.

Professor Johnson is now at work on "Visionary Politics: Revolutionary Transnationalism and the Aesthetics of the Arab Avant-Garde," which looks to the history of contemporary Arab literary styles since the 1960s. Similarly based on cross-linguistic exchanges, this book investigates experimental Arabic literature and art and their revolutionary attempts to envision alternative political futures throughout the decades-long transition from decolonization to globalization. Like Stranger Fictions, it focuses on transnational exchanges of ideas and aesthetic forms, showing the way that authors and artists conceptualized political futures and revolutionary visions across causes and conflicts that can otherwise appear distinct. 

Professor Johnson has been a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies, the Social Science Research Council, the Council for Library and Information Resources, the Fulbright Foundation, and the Kaplan Institute of Humanities. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in NOVEL, Middle Eastern Literatures, Comparative Literature, The International Journal of Middle East Studies, Modern Language Quarterly, and Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation. She has also published translations of Arabic literature; her translation with the author of Sinan Antoon's I'jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody is available from City Lights Books. 

Professor Johnsons is Associate Editor of the Journal of Arabic Literature. At Northwestern, she is co-appointed in the Department of English and the Kaplan Institute for Humanities, and is core faculty in the Programs in Middle East and North African Studies and Comparative Literature. She was awarded the Weinberg College Distinguished Teaching Award in 2015 and the Weinberg College Distinguished Advising Award in 2013. She currently serves as the Director of Middle East and North African Studies.

Areas of Teaching and Research

Modern Arabic Literature and Literary Culture, Postcolonial Literatures, Studies in the Novel, Transnational and Comparative Methodologies, Translation Studies


Literary Theory, Postcolonial, Modern


A Dove in Free Flight
A Dove in Free Flight (co-translator, UpSet Press, 2021)
Stranger Fictions: A History of the Novel in Arabic Translation
Stranger Fictions: A History of the Novel in Arabic Translation  (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2021)
I'jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody
I'jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody (co-translator, City Lights Publishers, 2007)


Journal of Arabic Literature



  • "Cross-Revolutionary Reading: Vietnam, Palestine, and the Arab Avant-Garde," CL: Comparative Literature, forthcoming
  • "In Translation: Cosmopolitan Reading in the Nahḍah." Teaching Modern Arabic Literature in Translation, edited by Michelle Hartman, 97-117. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2018.
  • Recipient of the Teaching Literature Book Award, Honorable Mention [pdf]
  • "Archive of Errors: Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq, Literature, and the World" in "World Literature." Special issue, Middle Eastern Literatures 20, no. 1 (2017): 31-50.
  • "The Already Globalized Eighteenth Century: Lessons from Arab Translators." The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 58, no. 1 (Spring 2017): 127-131.
  • "Importing the Novel: The Arabic Novel in and as Translation. Novel: A Forum on Fiction 48.2 (August 2015): 243-260.
  • "Beautiful Infidels: The Western Travels of The Arabian Nights." Eighteenth Century Studies 46.3 (Spring 2013).
  • "The Politics of Reading: Recognition and Revolution in Jabra Ibrahim Jabra's In Search of Walid Masoud in Recognition in Narrative, Film and Music: Interdisciplinary Studies on Anagnorisis, eds. Philip Kennedy and Marilyn Lawrence (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2009), 178-192.
  • "Lineages of the Novel: The Arabian Nights and Arab-European Literary Influence" coauthored with Katie Trumpener and Richard Maxwell. Modern Language Quarterly 68.2 (2007): 243-279.