Photo borrowed off Riahi’s blog http://kamelriahi.maktoobblog.com/

Over at Tunisian Literature (in English), my long-lost cousin Ali Znaidi has been actively posting about “The Political Novel in Tunisia,” translating an interview with poet Radhia Chehaibi, and reporting on the winners of the Golden Comar Prize 2012, among other things.

Yesterday, he posted an interview with Tunisian novelist Kamel Riahi, which originally ran in Arabic in Assabah.  Riahi is a significant young Tunisian writer. Following his first two collections of short stories and novel, al-Mishrat, he was chosen as one of the Beirut39 authors in 2009, and he also got a nod from the International Prize for Arabic Fiction nadwa. His works have been translated into a number of languages. His second novel, al-Ghurila (The Gorilla), was published by al-Saqi Books in 2011. You can read an excerpt trans. Elliott Colla on Jadaliyya. A different excerpt was published in the Emerging Arab Voices collection.

Plus, if Facebook’s not lying today, it’s Riahi’s birthday today.

Riahi talks about his wonderful-sounding cultural salon, Nas Decameron:

“Nas Decameron” is a cultural salon that groups some writers, and artists to present a different cultural experience that cuts with the usual, and standardised image of the literary, and cultural activities. The group includes permanent members who present their narrative works on a weekly basis through theatrical readings à l’italienne. It is an experience that aims at restoring the culture of storytelling, and orality that would boost the Tunisian narrative scene, and showing the closeness of literature to the other arts, such as music, drama, and fine arts.

He explains how the idea stemmed out of creative-writing workshops, and the desire to “establish a laboratory of narrative writing in Tunisia.”

Before the Ben Ali regime fell, it was difficult to get the project started:

My meetings with other creators who are enthusiastic for the establishing of the project were secretive, and in cafés as if we were talking about issues pertaining to state security.

Riahi talked about the focus on world literature. But by this, elhamdulallah, he didn’t mean just imitating some Western fashion. He particularly noted:

Writers in Tunisia do not know, for example, Salim Barakat, a Kurdish Syrian writer residing in Sweden that Mahmoud Darwish said about him: “I try, as far as possible, not to emulate Salim Barakat,” and Adonis: “Arabic language is in Salim Barakat’s pocket.”

What about the writer in revolutionary, post-Jan-14 Tunisia?

Unfortunately, their role is still too modest, if not to say there is a resignation of the Tunisian creator and intellectual towards his/her true role because he/she threw himself/herself into the lap of politics, seeking chairs, positions, and privileges that are being programmed from now. The salon of “Nas Decameron” is a reaction against the deadly cultural status quo in the street, like the city of Florence in Italy that was afflicted by the plague.

Riahi adds, “…what we are seeing today as a political confusion is caused, according to me, by the fact that we are not still aware that the subject-matter is, first and foremost, cultural.”

Riahi announced on Facebook today: “The next meeting of Nass Decameron will be devoted to realism in the American novel, and the literary movements of the inter-war years, specifically: “The lost generation” and “the beat generation.” We will discuss the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Jack Kerouak, William S. Burroughs, etc. The meeting will take place on Friday, May 18 starting at 4 p.m. in the Ibn Khaldun House of Culture.”

Thanks again to Ali Znaidi for his work on this. You can follow all of his posts over at http://tunisianlit.wordpress.com/.

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