New French-Lebanese Literary Prize & Other Things You Missed While I Was Away

Lebanon’s French book fair — the 19th Salon du Livre Francophone de Beyrouth — will be held from Oct. 26 through Nov. 4 of this year, separate (as is unfortunately been the case) from the capitol’s Arabic book fair.

However, according to the Iran Book News Agency (IBNA)*, this year will see a new literary prize promoting cross-pollination between Francophone writers and Arabophone readers. Eight French books will be placed — or most likely already have been placed — on a longlist for a “Goncourt: Orient Selection” prize. A jury of Lebanese students will read through the selections and choose a winner, which will be announced on October 31.

The winning novel will reportedly be translated into Arabic.

According to IBNA, the jury is headed by Lebanese Beirut39 laureate Hyam Yared, who will be assisted by poet and journalist Eskander Habash.

In a previous interview for the Beirut39 project, Yared said: “[I write in French] because I was raised in this tongue, even though Arabic is deeply rooted in my subconscious and daily life. I write in French with all the influences of Arabic in which I was born.”

I like the idea of student-juried prizes.

*I see no other mention, so I hope this is all accurate.

A Talk with Saqi Books Head Lynn Gaspard

BookTrust (UK) talked with Saqi Books’ Lynn Gaspard, who spoke about Saqi’s focus and whether or not it “makes a difference” (wrong question):

‘Sure,’ she says. ‘It’s a passion and it’s something you believe in – you’re interested, you’re curious, you want to discover another culture… If you look at what we’ve published over the years, we’re a minorities publisher: the Druze, the Jews, the Yezidis, gays in the Arab world, women… You do want to feel like you’re contributing, of course, and with fiction you’re certainly contributing, but it’s more subtle. Of course the message is important, but it’s about literary qualities, it’s about beauty first and foremost, and beauty is above politics’.

Read the whole interview/profile. 

Ahram Online Talks to Ibrahim Abdel Meguid

Mary Mourad at Ahram Online did a very good job getting at interesting topics with novelist Abdel Meguid. Here, on the shifts between his journalistic and literary writing; how he keeps the two modes in their places:

As a young writer, I always thought of journalistic writing as a danger to creative writing, and didn’t think it could be possible to mix the two. At the same time, I looked at great novelists like Gabriel Garcia Marquez who worked as journalists and it didn’t impact their careers.

I decided to delve into this language when I realised I could make a distinction between the two modes: the fast, mass-reading, simple style required for writing in a newspaper versus the rigorous building and language required for novels.

These different modes were reflected even in my routine: I write articles in the mornings or at least when people are awake before midnight, leaving my door open and sometimes I write listening to the television or to crowds. Novels and creative writing I start after 2am when everyone is asleep and the world is silent. Then I close my door, put on some classical music, diving into a different mode

About the revolution’s impact on his latest collection:

The spirit of the revolution is present in various stories: the first for example depicts a family whose son died in the revolution and they were missing him on the table and received a spiritual message from him. There’s the story about the police who were waiting for an official to pass by, and he never came despite Iftar and they had to endure additional time in the heat without food. There’s the real story of the youth sitting in Tahrir Square during Ramadan, who offered the police food when they were breaking their fast, knowing these same people will be hitting them as soon as they finish eating.

On the other hand:

We are, however, still waiting for new creative production that can match this new liberation from fear. Right now the common sense on the street has surpassed complex analysis, and creative production will hopefully soon catch up.

Abdel Meguid’s view on the Ministry of Culture:

I have a clear perspective on this topic and have discussed this long ago. The Ministry of Culture should become a Ministry of State for Culture, and its role should be to promote independent art. Art has to be created and managed by private individuals, supported and encouraged with the infrastructure and funding by the state, but not directed by it.

Imagine this situation today: the Ministry of Culture before the revolution was the voice of the state. Now with the regime change, is it going to be the voice of Islamists? If they lose power, is it going to change course again? This doesn’t make sense. Culture belongs to people and not the state. It’s the people themselves who should decide what to watch and hear, not be directed to it.

On the third volume of the No One Sleeps in Alexandria trilogy, which should be out by January:

The third volume of the trilogy is about the Alexandria that is losing its Egyptian spirit to become Wahhabi with the growth of the Salafist movement. What I’m most interested in is the early days of the movement, its first appearance in university, and their attack on our magazines, the camps to train their militia to attack the leftists, all the way to the massive project selling all the bars and casinos of Alexandria and turning them into malls or party halls.

Unsurprisingly: “The way I look at things is that the SCAF are the cause for all the crisis in Egypt, this is my perspective.”

But: “I’m really optimistic about this new generation: they are willing to die for what believe. ”

Read the whole Q&A, and thanks to Mourad.

Two Tunisian Novels Nominated for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction

They are Achiket Adam (Adam’s Mistress) by Tunisian poet and novelist Moncef Louhaibi and Saadatouhou Essaid Elwazir (His Excellency Mr. the Minister) by Houcine El Wad (or Houcine El Oued), nominated by Sud Editions, Tunis. More on the books and prize from the excellent Tunisian Literature (in English).


New York Times: In the Shadow of Assad’s Bombs, Samar Yazbek (trans. Max Weiss)

Jadaliyya: Roundtable on the Language of Revolution in Egypt, Paul Sedra, Robert Springborg, Joshua Stacher, Adam Sabra, and Elliott Colla

Jadaliyya: At the Station of a Train Which Fell Off the Map, Mahmoud Darwish (trans. Sinan Antoon)

Egypt Independent: When Dracula speaks Arabic