In a recent discussion between activist-writer Alaa Seif and the staff of Mada Masr, titled “Released but imprisoned daily: Alaa Seif on the need for new imaginations,” Seif spoke about, among other things, the difficulty of getting reading material in prison:
From a discussion with Mohammed Hamama about how he wrote an article while in prison, and what he read to inform himself:
Hamama: You said that what was allowed inside changed every so often. How so?
Alaa: There was no rule. I also felt there was never an explicit ban when it came to books, but things would be set aside for months for “review,” and after a while I would forget about them. During every visitation, I’d be brought new things and some would be let in and some wouldn’t. Yesterday, I remembered that J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye never made it in. It got stuck with them. I don’t think they rejected it for censorship reasons. I think they have one officer there who understands English and was in the security directorate or something and it just fell through the cracks in the system. The ban was clearer with magazines and newspapers.
Foreign publications made them very nervous. Part of it is that the state every so often picks a fight with the Economist, or BBC, or Reuters. So they would know there is a dispute with various foreign media.
And from a further discussion with Lina Attalah about how it’s possible to create knowledge while in prison:
I did get a lot of comics. This is my favorite art form, especially narrative art, more than cinema or novels. I made some discoveries. A friend sent me Japanese manga translated into English. Of course, manga is a huge category. I knew it existed, but I didn’t know where to begin, I had only read the classics. So that opened up some new, nice things. There’s a fantastic comic, called Daytripper in English, that was really meaningful for me. It’s published in the US, but the artist and writer is Brazilian. It’s got a magical realism bent, which is really appropriate for prisoners. It’s a perfect gift for any prisoner who can read English. Or maybe someone can translate it. I also read some very good science fiction, and I collected stories and narratives about failed revolutions.
Read the whole Q&A over at Mada Masr.