Five emerging novelists will present their works — that came out of a writing workshop with novelist Sahar Elmougy — on Sunday in Cairo:
By Mona Elnamoury
If you happen to be in Cairo, try to attend the next cultural event hosted by the Doum Cultural Foundation on this coming Sunday, the 30th of April. It will be an evening of readings and signings for five emerging writers from Seshat Creative Writing Workshop, moderated by novelist Sahar Elmougy and hosted by Doum.
Seshat Workshop launched in 2012 and has since expanded into a number of different cultural activities, from storytelling to writing marathons to book signings. The five books that will be available on Sunday are primarily debut works: Tales from the Alley of the Jews, by Ahmed Saad; A Dear Step, by Amira Alnoshokaty; my own Chitchat Over the Thames; The Woman Who Saved Me, by Ghada Salah, and finally A Videotape of the Nineties, by Youmna Khattab.
The event asks an important question: Does a writer really need a writing workshop? The question seems timely. as writing workshops, led by different writers at different stages in their careers, have been booming all across Cairo. Sahar Elmougy, Mohamed Abdelnabi, Bahaa Abdulmaguid, Yasser Abdullateef, and others are just a few who have led workshops, which often continue online after the core workshops are finished.
Also, an excerpt from a forthcoming Q&A with Elnamoury, about her book Chitchat Over the Thames, a clear echo of the title of Naguib Mahfouz’s Chitchat on the Nile:
Travel literature is such a great genre in that gives the writer endless freedom to use other forms of writing. It is informative, sarcastic, funny, autobiographical, and still very much fictional. [Arab] writers may have lost interest in it because they focus on only one aspect, which is the informative aspect, and become discouraged because the world has become “a small village,” as the trite saying goes.
In a sense it is, but you can see that small village from a thousand angles and tell a thousand different stories about it. One more reason, I think, is the market. Literature lovers tend to prefer the novel now. What about short-story collections? They are less prestigious. What about plays? They are less popular; people want to watch them. What about poetry? Oh! Much less wanted. Travel literature? What else could be said about a place like London that has not been said before? You risk not being read or sold. I was advised by Sahar Elmougy to work on the fictional parts of the book and make an effort to turn the book into a novel. I tried and I could not. And you know what? It looks like a novel to me as it is.