‘Iraq + 100’: Supporting New Iraqi Writers, Supporting Literature in 3ameya

The ‘Iraq + 100’ or ‘العراق 2103′ project continues to gain steam as it moves toward the initial June 1 deadline. On the eve of Iraq + 10, ArabLit exchanged a few emails with one of the organizers, Comma Press publisher Ra Page.

commaIraq + 100 is — or will be — a collection of 10 short stories set in different cities around Iraq, written by 10 different Iraqi authors, all with this particular twist: They must be set 100 years after the 2003 invasion.

The collection, which will be edited by Page and Iraqi short-story writer Hassan Blasim, has another condition: The stories must be written by Iraqi authors who are currently living in Iraq.

Why Iraqi authors in Iraq and not those in the diaspora?

“Iraqi writers based in Europe, or America, say, will have SOME opportunities to be published in the language of their adopted homes, although probably not many,” Page said. “But most countries in Europe, for example, have at least one independent publisher interested in showcasing voices from the region. It will be hard for these diaspora writers, very hard, but hopefully not completely impossible.”

Page added: ” I’m interested in finding writers we’ve never heard of before, because there are NO opportunities to write and be published, freely and without pressure or expectation, in their own country. Comma is flexible enough to be able to go the extra mile, I hope, to find the writers on the ground in Iraq, so we should go the extra mile.”

Page and Blasim don’t yet know which 10 cities will be featured in the collection, but it was important to look at the country as a whole, and not just its capital. “We want this to be about future cities, plural, not just one city in the future. We want lots of different visions of what cities in the future might look like.”

Certainly, Baghdad will find its way into the collection. But also, Page said, Basra:

“[Th]ere’s an odd quirk in the history of ‘science fiction’ and ‘futurism’ that I want to pay homage to. When HG Wells wrote Things to Come (and later the film The Shape of Things to Come), the new hope for mankind – the mysterious alliance ‘Wings Over the World’ – all came from one city: Basra. In this sense, Basra is the capital of futurism, a key city in our idea of future cities. We couldn’t have the book without it.”

But among the obvious reasons of supporting emerging Iraqi authors, fostering new short-story forms, and forging links between Iraqi authors and English-language audiences, Page and Blasim had another.

Page said that “another major reason for doing this book is to promote the use of ammeya [spoken] Arabic…in literature, and to escape the pressure put on writers by the obligation to us fus’ha [literary] Arabic.”

He added that Blasim “passionately believes in the possibility of a ‘unified ammeya’, an amalgam of street tongues across the Arab world,” and the new possibilities this would offer.

If you know an author who might contribute a story, or want to contribute one:

Submissions are open until June 1. Details here.