Matar on Libya: This is About ‘a People Trying to Find Their Voice’

A few hours ago, Libyan-British author Hisham Matar tweeted:

This is not about a country removing a dictator, but a people trying to find their voice. #Libya

Indeed, throughout the last several months, Libyans have written poems, stories, published new newspapers, produced new music. New school curricula have been envisioned.

And in this week’s Qantara, Susanna Tarbush writes about authors in exile who are making efforts to support their native Libya, namely: Hisham Matar, Khaled Mattawa, Ghazi Gheblawi, Giuma Bukleb, and Mohammed Mesrati.


Matar has spoken during the uprising of writing as being a form of resistance, and as enabling people “to sing”. Asked if he was hopeful about the uprising, he has said: “There’s of course hope, but there’s more importantly a sense of possibility, that didn’t exist before. It’s as if the horizon just went much further than before.”


“At the same time,” Gheblawi asserts, “Libyan writers living outside Libya have a huge responsibility to use their skills to reach out and convey the real message of Libyan youth, the real heroes of this revolution. We have a supportive role, and we try as much as possible to rise to the challenge.”

And Gheblawi again:

Gheblawi thinks the revolution may lead to the publication of previously unpublished works. “I know that many Libyan writers wrote works during the Gaddafi years that weren’t published”, he says. “Some of the works were rejected by the censor; others were written in the full knowledge that it would not be possible for them to be published until the fall of the regime.” He can imagine “a gush of creativity and works of new writing coming out in the next few years.”


Bukleb says it is journalists who are first occupying the new spaces opening up for writing in Libya: “This will help produce a new generation of journalists.”

Tarbush also mentions Ahmed Fagih, whose Homeless Rats is just now out in translation. Tarbush says that Fagih also has been a supporter of new Libya, although his website, in which photos of Fagih with the Leader have pride of place, could certainly use an update.

Again, it’s a shame that Nubian author Idris Ali passed away last November. Ali was the author of the banned The Leader is Getting a Haircut, the “leader” in question being Moammar Ghaddafi. He died before seeing new hope in Egypt and in Libya.

More resources:

Banipal 40, Libyan Fiction

Ghazi Gheblawi’s blog, Imtidad, both in Arabic and English

Khaled Mattawa’s poem, “Now That We Have Tasted Hope

“Er7ol,” by Giuma Bukleb

Review: Hisham Matar’s Anatomy of a Disappearance

A Poem from Missing Libyan Author Rabia Cherir

The website of Ahmed Fagih, “writer of international standing”

Follow Hisham Matar and Ghazi Gheblawi on Twitter.