If You’re in Kuwait (or Kenya, or Kentucky), How Do You Find Out About Books in…Tunisia?

Ben at BOOK Southern Africa had an interesting piece yesterday about Tunisian literature at the Frankfurt Book Fair. He asked:

If you publish a book in Tunisia, which straddles Africa and the Middle East across the Mediterranean Sea, how likely is it that fellow Arabic readers off the continent will read it, never mind (anglophone) Africans further south?

The prizes are helping, Ben writes (and indeed they are: the “Arabic Booker” has helped French-Tunisian author Habib Selmi find an international readership). And Banipal‘s latest edition features Tunisian literature. But what of other Tunisian writers? How do they access readers beyond the Banipal readership?

Nouri Obaid, president of the Tunisian Publishers’ Association, apparently told the audience in Frankfurt that Tunisians have “paid a price for writing in Arabic, not French, while being in the Maghreb,” as Tunisia’s Arabic-language publishing was dominated by the state. It was only in the 1980s that independent publishers started to appear, he said, and now “many writers are self-publishing, thereby creating a third publishing channel.”

Habib Selmi, who also spoke on the panel, said he published his first books in Beirut. And:

I encourage Tunisian writers to do the same, to publish beyond Tunisia, in order to reach a greater readership.

But even if we could all publish out of Beirut, how would readers find out about all these new books? And what of readers who want to know what’s being published in Tunisia, and publishers who want to know what’s going on in Oman, and parents who want to find the newest children’s literature from Jordan (really, there’s great kid lit in Jordan)?

Well! Literary agent and book-lover Yasmina Jraissati has an incipient solution. Yesterday at the Sharjah International Book Fair, Jraissati launched Mubtada wa Khabar: A Collaborative Platform for the Arab Book Industry,  a website that aims to connect writers, booksellers, publishers and readers. Information is available in English, French and, طبعا, Arabic.

If you’re a reader, writer, publisher, parent, or bookseller interested in Arabic literature, go over to Mubtada wa Khabar and register now. If you have books to submit, submit them. Go on….

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