Friday Finds: A Conversation with Libyan Novelist Najwa Benshatwan

Libyan writer Najwa Benshatwan and Yemeni author Nadia Alkokabany were invited to participate in a conversation with Bidisha at this year’s Shubbak Festival, which took place in July. However, both authors were denied visas:

Instead, they addressed the audience by video and read from their novels in an event you can hear on Soundcloud.

An excerpt of Benshatwan’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction-shortlisted novel Slave Pens also recently ran on ArabLit, trans. Sawad Hussain and M Lynx Qualey, and British-Arab journalist and blogger Nahla Al-Ageli, author of the popular Nahla Ink, spoke with Benshatwan for the Shubbak blog.

In the interview, of which we run an excerpt for Women in Translation Month, Benshatwan said of the situation in Libya:

“In terms of my literary ambitions, under Gaddafi there was no intellectual freedom and I was always worried about not just the state control but family and societal controls too. It is only now in ‘The Slave Pens’ that I am much older and more confident that I can safely explore things like love and sex for example.”

“So I turned to short story fiction and utilised symbolism when dealing with Libya as the essence and background of my tales. But I was careful to enter only competitions judged abroad and they were one way to gain recognition. But my work came to the scrutiny of the Libyan authorities who tried to lure me to write about the regime and its ideology which I refused to do.

“The situation worsened when I got arrested and charged for writing against the state with the publication my short story ‘His Excellency, the Eminence of the Void’. Afraid and terrified to spend a night in prison with criminals, I travelled all the way to Tripoli where I spent four hours under interrogation knowing that the maximum sentence could be execution.

“Although I was not convicted, they wouldn’t leave me in peace, making my life hell and sending spies at the university where I was teaching and forcing me to attend political events. It was like cat and mouse that I stopped publishing my work and planned to save up enough money to be able to make an escape.”

Read the whole interview over at the Shubbak blog.