Emerging Author Dihia Louiz on Writing Algeria’s ‘Black Spring’

Dihia Louiz is one of three emerging authors who appeared at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair’s Majlis Al Mutannabi, courtesy of the Daad initiative. The 28-year-old Algerian novelist appeared alongside Saudi author Haifa Al Eed and Emirati author Abdullah Al Suweidi. Before that, she answered a few questions about switching between languages and writing about the events in Algeria in the spring of 2001:

Photo of Dihiya Louiz courtesy Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.
Photo of Dihiya Louiz courtesy Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

Louiz, whose given name is Louiza Aouzelleg, is not only a novelist. She also has a Master’s in marketing and is currently at work on a PhD in economics at Algeria’s Bejaia University. For her, writing is “a pleasure and a passion.”

“It’s a great moment when I feel the words coming out of me and hanging on paper—it’s a moment that liberates me from all kinds of pressures.” But she doesn’t see writing as a merely therapeutic act. “I write because I believe it could change something in my society.”

Louiz first caught critics’ attention with her debut novel A Body Inside Me (2012), published by Algeria’s TIRA editions, in which she wrote about new motherhood from a fresh perspective. Between her first and her second novels, Louiz said, she read more and had more life experiences, which allowed her to better structure her ideas and develop fictional characters.

“I can say that I’m more mature in my writing in this second novel.”

Her second novel, I Throw Myself in Front of You (2013), was co-published in Algeria and Beirut. The book caught many reviewers’ attention with a short passage about incest. This, Louiz said, was inspired by a real story. But the core of the novel addresses events that took place in Algeria’s Kabylia region during the “Black Spring” of 2001.

The “Black Spring” began in April 2001, when a Kabyle student was arrested by Algerian police. The student was apparently tortured and died inside the station. This death set off long-standing angers in the Tamazight-speaking area, triggering marches and deadly riots that lasted for months and resulted in police suppression and a reported 126 deaths. Louiz says that she has collected testimonies, articles, books, videos, and more about the events.

“Writing about the Black Spring has always been an obsession for me,” Louiz said, adding that she was very close to events as they unfolded.

This tragic chapter in Algeria’s history is a sensitive one, Louiz said, and there aren’t many books on the subject. There are only “some essays and testimonies. My book is the first novel.”

Louiz writes both in Tamazight and Arabic, but chose to write this novel in Arabic “because I think it’s important for other regions in Algeria, who don’t read in Tamazight, to know more about this subject.” She wants them to “know what exactly was happening in Kabylia in this period.”

Louiz was born in the northern port city of Bejaia, the capital of Kabylia’s Bejaia province, and Tamazight is her mother tongue. In addition to publishing work in Arabic, she is also interested in writing and publishing in Tamazight. She participated with other Moroccan, Algerian, and Libyan authors in a Tamazight collection of short stories called Ifssan N Tamunt, or The Seeds of Union, which was published in 2013.

“It’s my mother language,” Louiz said. “So it’s easy to write [in Tamazight] about some matters close to my community and its traditions.”

Louiz said she doesn’t choose whether to write in Tamazight or Arabic. “The subject in general imposes the language of writing.” But about the Black Spring, she has written in both languages. “I also have other projects in Tamazight about this theme and some short stories, too, that I haven’t published yet.”

Louiz said that both Arab and world readers have much to discover in the current Algerian literary scene, which is rich with writers who deserve to be read. On her list of must-reads, she included Smail Yebrir, Bachir Mefti, Sarah Haider, Samir Kacimi, Lounis Benali, and Hadjer Kouidri. Two of the authors—Mefti and Kacimi—have been listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Haider and Yabrir have gained literary attention both in Arabic and in French.

In her advice to other young writers, Louiz said that they must work hard on a manuscript, and be satisfied with it, before attempting to share it with readers. She added: “It’s true that it’s not easy to be published when you’re a new writer, but it’s important to have confidence in your writings. Publication will come sooner or later.”

This article, written by ArabLit’s editor, previously appeared in the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair’s Show Daily.