Baniyas Island

The IPAF (“Arabic Booker”)-sponsored retreat to Baniyas Island is over, and a few of the authors—including Egypt’s Mansoura el-Ezdin, longlisted for this year’s Arabic Booker—spoke with The National about their experiences.

In effect, it sounds like a clone of writing retreats anywhere in the Americas or Europe.

This makes me a little weary, as it doesn’t have the same cultural authenticity—yes, authenticity—as the avant garde Kirkuk Group of 1960s Iraq (Fadhil Al-Azzawi) or Cairo’s 1960s intellectual swarm (Sonallah Ibrahim) or all of Roberto Bolano’s fabulous invented poetry groups and counter-groups. Of course, yes, this is the way we roll in the U.S., where attendance in M.F.A. programs and retreats is determined by committee, and doesn’t grow out of the participants’ interests or politics, but instead out of the committee’s desire for “balance” or “talent” or “success rates” who knows, I’ve never sat on a committee.

So it rolls.