The ‘Young Writers of Benghazi’ and Other Hopes for a Literary Scene Under Siege
The last month has been a tense time in Benghazi. Hundreds have died in the fight for Libya’s second city, and literary hopes — like others — have been put on hold. But Nada Elfeituri still writes, and still holds a candle for the “Young Writers of Benghazi” group:
Elfeituri, who describes herself as “a Libyan who’s obsessed with the intellectual revival of my country,” started the “Young Writers of Benghazi” in August 2013, “though the idea was something I had been planning for a while. Our first project was a story contest in one of Benghazi’s local public school, which we were able to do through a grant with MEPI (the Middle-East Partnership Initiative). The winning stories were printed in booklets, which we distributed among the students and staff of the school, and the winners got gift certificates for a local book store.
This was followed by an online short-story contest, the “result of messages we got from people outside of Benghazi who also wanted to share their writing, and the security situation in Benghazi made online contests easier.”
The group has also been involved in starting up an orphanage library, “but they had to close temporarily, again because of the security situation. The project is nearly done, we’re just waiting for things to calm down.”
…it’s no surprise that when the revolution happened, a tidal wave of words, both written and spoken, washed over the country. The opinions and beliefs that everyone had secretly held were finally uttered, hindered no more by the regimes’ wall of silence. In Benghazi alone over 100 magazines and newspapers were founded, because everyone had something to say. Books were published about the regime, channels and radio stations were established.
This wave of words has ebbed since then. Most people now use Facebook to express themselves, but this isn’t without its consequences. Rumors and fear-mongering are a prominent feature on social media and Libyan press agencies. We’re still learning the privileges and repercussions that freedom of speech gives us.
She further wrote:
But with limited resources it will still be difficult to encourage the newer generations to read. This is partially the reason why I started The Young Writers of Benghazi. Encouraging aspiring writers and producing literature on a local level will give us the chance to showcase the literary talents in Libya, tackle issues that directly pertain to our culture and society (as opposed to importing books), and will give Libyan literature a chance to flourish. So far the support we’ve gotten and the talent we’ve seen among Benghazi’s students have been incredible.
In the future, Elfeituri hopes to hold writing contests across a wide number of public schools. “We also wanted to set up a program with one of the radio stations, to read the stories that won in our contests on the radio, as a way to further encourage writing. This is what we hope to do when things stabilize, along with holding writing workshops.”
“We’re still a pretty small organization,” she said, “and we hope to expand.”
You can also read Elfeituri’s recent review of two recent Libyan novels on GoodReads: