‘There is a Huge Spectrum of Writers in Saudi Arabia’

And one of them is Beirut39 honoree Mohammed Hasan Alwan, who gamely responded to the furor over Saudi “guest of honor” status at the Prague Book Fair in The Gaurdian.

His response didn’t receive nearly as much attention as the initial criticism, but sums up as: Book World Prague was right to honour Saudi Arabia

Alwan says that it’s Saudi writers who stand to lose the most from international isolation, not the government. And after all:

There is a huge spectrum of writers in Saudi Arabia. Some of them conform with the government schema and its overall ideological view…. Others are more critical, but many writers today also enjoy more freedom than the previous generation, which used to suffer from the lack of it. It is still absolutely not enough by any means, but many see signs that a breakthrough is coming.

He adds: “Spreading enlightenment is a job for writers, but if they are isolated from international contacts these writers will soon be in need of enlightenment themselves.”

Meanwhile, this week’s Qantara has an interview with Saudi novelist Badriya al-Bishr, who agreed  that she was surprised to find her novel Hind and the Soldiers approved for sale in the KSA. The interviewer focused on taboo and controversy, but al-Bishr noted that while her book may provide a shock to the members of her own and earlier generations, “I don’t think today’s youth, who are influenced by satellite TV, mobile phones and the internet, will find anything but grandma’s stories in my novel.”


You can read one of Alwan’s short stories on the Guardian website, “Oil Field.”

More of Alwan’s stories can be found on his website.

Al-Bishr had a short story, “School Diaries,” included in the collection Voices of Change: Short Stories by Saudi Arabian Women Writers.