Against the Writers Union Shutdown, Read Stories and Poems from Sudan

The Sudanese Writers Union and the monthly “Mafroush” book market — both now shuttered — were vital cultural spaces in Khartoum:

From the Prince Claus Foundation, which celebrated the SWU in 2007.
From the Prince Claus Foundation, which celebrated the SWU in 2007.

As I wrote in a piece at Al Jazeera, the union initially opened in 1986, during the brief Sadiq al-Mahdi coalition government.

When Omar al-Bashir came to power in 1989, the union was one of the first organizations he banned, and writers were expelled from the historic building granted them by the previous government. The union was relaunched in 2005, after a peace treaty was signed between north and south Sudan. Then, civil space seemed to open up again.

Since that time, poet and cultural activist Mamoun Eltlib said in a Skype interview, the Writers Union has been one of the main platforms for cultural organizing in Sudan. “They have an office and buildings, space for events, music, literature, books, many things.” Their most recent events — before the shutdown — involved inviting Moroccan poet Mohammed Bennis to Khartoum for a series of readings and discussions. Hardly the “political” violation of the SWU’s charter that the government claimed.

The monthly Mafroush book market, meanwhile, started three years ago, and played host not just to books, but the music, fine art, and poetry readings. It has also been at least temporarily shuttered.

According to an editorial that ran this weekend in the Sudan Vision, opposing the shutdown, shuttering the writers union is being “described as part of a wider crackdown by authorities on centres believed to be pro-opposition.”

The Vision further asserts that “the decision will draw more attention from the public to the SWU and its activities even those who have never heard about it.”

Meanwhile, we can at the very least draw our attention to Sudanese literature, which Naguib Mahfouz Medal-winning Sudanese novelist Hammour Ziada says, “is full of poeticism, in addition to [being unique because of] the world the Sudanese culture belongs to, where African and Arab cultures mix.”

Novels in translation

Season of Migration to the NorthTayeb Salih, trans. Denys Johnson-Davies

Bandarshah, Tayeb Salih, trans. Denys Johnson-Davies

Cities Without PalmsTarek Eltayeb, trans. Kareem James Abu-Zeid

The Grub HunterAmir Tag Elsir, trans. William Hutchins

French Perfume, Amir Tag Elsir, trans. William Hutchins

Written in English

In the Hour of SignsJamal Mahjoub

Novella in translation

The Wedding of Zein, by Tayeb Salih, trans Denys Johnson-Davies

Novel soon to be in translation

The Longing of the Dervishby Hammour Ziada

Short stories

“A Handful of Dates,” by El-Tayyib El-Salih

“In the Long Shadows,” by Jamal Mahjoub

“Isolation,” by Sabah Babiker Ibraheem Sanhouri, trans. Max Shmookler and Najlaa Eltom.

“Stirring Ashes,” by Yousif Izzat AlMahri, trans. Mustafa Adam


A selection of al-Saddiq al-Raddi’s poetry from the Poetry Translation Centre: includes “An Image” and “Lost,” trans. Hafiz Kheir and Mark Ford

Another selection of al-Saddiq al-Raddi’s work from the Centre: includes “A Monkey at the Window,” trans. Hafiz Kheir and Sarah Maguire

“The Return to Sinnar,” by Mohamed Abd-Alhai, trans. Mustafa Adam