Comma Press’s Iraq + 100 was recently released. On the Comma website, they talk with Basra-based contributor Diaa Jubaili, author of the “The Worker,” about the short story (“an art that will not die”), community, and life in Basra:
The interview is in two parts — one, two — and in the first, Jubaili addreses the bleak future put forward in his story, “a vision of what a century of private deals with unaccountable foreign corporations will do to the city.”
Jubaili also talks about why the literary scene in Basra has been vibrant, and remains so:
Yes, fiction in Basra, as compared to other cities, is good not only now but from the 1960s, which was a golden period. Basra is a pioneer in writing fiction and this is probably because Basra is a multi-ethnic and -nationality city, or used to be, until it was depopulated of these many ethnic and national citizens with the passage of time, such as the Jews, Armenians, Christians and some other foreign residents. Secondly, because Basra is open to the sea and the desert at the same time – it is the only beach city in Iraq – it has always been influenced by those who came to it, and influenced them in turn, leading to the mixture of cultures, traditions and norms. In addition, Basra has a language and fiction heritage and it is one of the two most famous schools of Arabic language (where grammatical rules were increasingly developed in the late 8thCentury): Basra and Kufa. From it linguistics emerged and from it Sindbad first sailed his legendary sea journey.
Jubaili calls himself a “bad reader” of Arabic literature, and says writers who have affected him are Dino Buzzati, Italo Calvino, Anton Chekhov, Borges, Henry Marquez, Munro, and Edward Galeano.
What about free expression? Jubaili:
During the last regime’s time, freedom of expression was considered a crime, but I was in my beginnings and I didn’t publish any important work. I waited till the overthrow of the regime in 2003, and by then there was the space that I looked for, and that any writer needs to write freely. I didn’t like to write in an implicit and enigmatic way, which was one of the distinguishing features of Iraqi narrators at the dictator’s time, and I didn’t write in that way even if I was told to, or not to write again. But now, I feel I have to seize the opportunity and the availability of that space of freedom, in order to produce work that I will not be able to write later in time. The leadership in Iraq is religious, and I am worried that it may one day try to prevent writings that are critical and brave. This is why I read and write as if I am doing it for the last time.