Reading the Crystal Ball: The Past and Future of Libyan Lit

Thanks to young Libyan authors Ghazi Gheblawi and Mohamed Mesrati, I was able to put together a short-order essay about Libyan lit for Al Masry Al Youm: New Life for New Libyan Literature.” Thanks to who? Well:

Ghazi Gheblawi was born in Tripoli, Libya, and began publishing fiction in Libya in 1996. He has two published collections of short stories (in Arabic): Till When?, which appeared in 2001, and A Face Knows No Sadness, which came out in 2007. He writes poetry in English and translates from English into Arabic and vice versa. He is also a well-known blogger and podcaster. Oh, and a surgeon. He currently lives in London.

Mohamed Mesrati was also born in Tripoli, and began publishing his stories online on Kikah as well as in al-Quds al-Arabi in 2007. He recently published his first short-story collection and is at work on a novel, Mama Pizza, which was excerpted in Banipal 40. He currently lives in London and, you know, he looks a lot like Egyptian novelist Waguih Ghali.

Gheblawi helped with some excellent crystal-ball gazing about the future of Libyan poetry (it “will become more descriptive, with a sense of narrative and detail of the daily life of Libyans, and less focus on language and style”) and prose (” I am predicting that the next wave of literature in Libya will be in the form of novels”).

Mesrati helped fill in some of the history I was lacking: “The 90s generation focused more on Fantasy and Romanticism.” This was after “10 years (1980s) without literature or poetry in Libya after the detention of 70s generation authors, who [had] been in the prison…until 1988. The 90s generation literature was born from fear of punishment, and they just needed to…[write] without putting themselves in trouble with the regime. But after 2003, many names stared coming up with new fiction, new taste and less symbolic.”

Gheblawi told me where to find new Libyan poetry and fiction:

I can say that many of the new Libyan writers begin publishing their works online, in forums, blogs, online magazines and newspapers, and recently on social media, especially Facebook. Libyan literature used to be isolated and seldom read in publications outside Libya. With the internet, that become something of the past, most Libyan writers now find it easier to publish works online and than in print in Libya and outside Libya. The is a very successful online portal for Libyan literature called Balad al-Tieob ( founded by Libyan poet Ramiz Enweseri in 2000, and it has been a leading online reference to Libyan literature, old and new.

And I asked Gheblawi about his own writing, both poetry and fiction:

I am working on both although I would like to describe myself as a fiction writer, as I am not too much excited about the kind of “poetry” I write, the poetry I write is something impulsive, fills me with a joy for a moment than dies away, while fiction is much more exciting, daring, challenging, but exhausting. I would like to write poetry always but that is not going to happen, fiction, especially long fiction, is the future.

As we all hope, and as Mesrati says at the end of the piece on Al Masry Al Youm: “We want Tripoli, the beautiful city of History and Culture, to witness the beauty of Libyan literature and art, too.”

Onward to the 2012 Tripoli International Book Fair.


I had missed this euphoric tweet from one of the best young poets worldwide, Libyan-American Khaled Mattawa: “I’ve been mostly retweeting news from #Tripoli. Hard to say anything except that it’s amazing &thrilling. Free at last indeed!!!”

And more news from Mohamed Mesrati:

Libyan poet @ElhabibAlamin realised from Gaddafi prison. Welcome bk my friend, can’t help my tears @starbie99 @arablit

Mesrati also notes that poet Rabee Shrair is free. Waiting with hope on news of Hisham Matar’s father, Jaballa Matar.

1 Comment

  1. What wonderful news on the two Libyan poets freed. With hope for good news on Hisham Matar’s father.

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