Najwa Binshatwan: It’s Time for Libyan Writers to Prove Themselves

Following her writing residency in Durham, England, Libyan novelist Najwa Binshatwan answered a few questions about Libya, her writing, and her relationship with her readers:

Binshatwan is a Libyan academic, short-story writer and novelist whose work has been published in the Beirut39 anthology as well as Banthology, published this year. Her novel The Slaves’ Pens was shortlisted for the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and she was Banipal magazine’s 2018 writer-in-residence.

By Hend Saeed

You recently were the Banipal writer-in-residence at St. Aidan’s College in Durham. How did that work out?

Najwa Binshatwan: I spent the three months writing and reading. It was isolation I very much needed, as I’m always writing in the hubbub. My isolation there was complete, such that the harsh winter weather helped me to seclude myself even more, and thus full-time reading and writing and eventually ended the fellowship with two books: one of my stories and the other a novel.

Your novel Slaves’ Pens was shortlisted for International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) in 2017. Did that add to your responsibilities as a writer? Did that help in reaching wider readers in the Arab world?

NB: Yes, this adds to my responsibilities. The spread of the novel creates reader, and from one point of view, this is very encouraging, and from another it is scary. The writer must write as they want, and I am worried that readers are expecting what they want from me, what they want to hear from me. Often, readers tell me I should write about one subject or another, and I don’t like this sort of relationship, where readers approach the writer as though they’re a machine or a mythical creature.

Where do you see the Libyan literature now in the world? Has it changed in the last decade, for better or worse?

NB: I think that the Libyan author has always complained about the absence of freedom of speech and the controls on printing. But now this space is enlarged, and writers should write to prove themselves and to prove that asking for freedom wasn’t only about complaining, something to hide behind because they can’t be creative.

Are you working on a new book? Can you tell us about it?

NB: Yes, I finished a new novel, it is a different experience, writing about a Western community, which isn’t my community, through an immigrant girl who went from Eastern to Western Europe, and how she passes her days, and what happened when she left a socialist community for a capitalist one, and the many changes she saw.

I also finished a short-story collections, mostly strange and fantastical events that took place during the Libyan civil war. A collection of short stories like Picasso’s “Guernica.”

Short stories:

On Banipal: His Excellency the Eminence of the Void, tr. Suneela Mubayi

On Banipal: Run, George!, tr. Ouissal Harize


Video with English subtitles: Najwa Binshatwan – نجوى بن شتوان – International Prize For Arabic Fiction: 2017 Shortlist

Video in Arabic: Najwa Binshatwan | Day 1 | ADIBF 2017

About Her: Interview with Roula Allam

Qantara: An Interview with Valentina Viene

IPAF: An interview with International Prize for Arabic Fiction organizers