Last week at Cairo’s Goethe Institute, three German and three Egyptian writers came together to discuss the writing process, its politics, and how to (not) make a living as an author:
The three Egyptian authors were Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid, Khaled El-Khamissi, and Mansoura Ezzeddin, while the three Germans were David Wagner, Katharina Hacker, and Ulla Lenze. Ahram Online covered the event.
Among the questions up for discussion and debate was how to make a living as an author. The German authors assured event-goers that, contrary to popular belief, they too must grapple with how to make a living. Certainly, the financial issues around writing have taken a slightly different shape in different countries. But nowhere is it easy to make a living as a literary novelist with integrity, excerpt for a fortunate few.
So how to make a living? The German writers said they needed to have day jobs. For example, Wagner was a university lecturer and Lenze offered writing courses. The Egyptian novelists said the same, noting jobs like journalism or publishing. Government money, of course, can also support authors.
But, according to Ahram Online, “many” writers (at the event?) had refused state-sponsored scholarships because, El-Khamisi said, they “can’t accept money from a government that works against writers and culture.”
El-Khamisi apparently suggested that, rather than Egyptian authors taking money from a governmental source, a public fund could be established. Private citizens would donate, and the collected monies would be disbursed to support authors.
It’s possible to imagine how this would work — with the right board, the right management, and the right sort of altrustic donors — but it’s equally possible to imagine that benefactors would want to put their stamp on the literature, would want to shape the process, and would have fairly bad ideas about how to do that.