Four Writers on Finding Books in Yemen, Recommending Yemeni Writers

As part of putting together “Young, gifted and Yemeni: Writers find inspiration despite war,” ArabLit’s M Lynx Qualey messaged with four writers who took part in last year’s Romooz Foundation writing workshop, supported by the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture. The workshop resulted in a short-story anthology, Conflict, launched last December:

Workshop photo courtesy Romooz Foundation.

The four workshop participants were Sadiq al-Harasi (from Sana’a), Bakr Alwan (from Taiz), Fatima Ismael (from Sana’a), and Shurooq al-Ramadai (from Mukala).

All of these young, emerging writers converged on a workshop that was led by the acclaimed and award-winning Yemeni writer Wajdi al-Ahdal. They answered questions about that and their paths both as readers and writers. Some of what we messaged about wasn’t used in the short profile, and appears here.

Where do you meet other Yemeni writers?

Fatima Ismael: There are no places designated for Yemeni writers in particular, but there are meetings in public places, and writers usually meet on social-media platforms.

Shurooq al-Ramadai: You don’t find many experienced writers in the country, because most of those emigrated to other countries that give them the right to write about all things, but, as for young writers, we have a good group of brilliant writers, and there are others I’ve come across on social media.

Sadiq al-Harasi: I met many of them on social media platforms, such as Facebook, and then these turned into meetings in real life, as I met some of them at literary events and also in the creative writing workshop held by Romooz Foundation.

Bakr Alwan: I meet the Yemeni writers of my generation in discussion sessions on literature in various places. As for our previous generation, at times in popular cafes, and other times in their homes.

With all the difficulties in distribution compounded by the war, where do you buy (or borrow, or download) books?

Workshop photo courtesy Romooz Foundation.

Bakr Alwan: There’s been an absence of original copies in Yemen since the beginning of the war, and thus I’ve been buying pirated copies from shops or some kiosks—my relationship with the paper book is a very close one. Otherwise, if I can’t find the book I want, I download it from the Internet and print it out.

Fatima Ismael: In the past, that is, before the war on Yemen, there was an annual book fair that sold books in various disciplines; in the current situation, there are bookshops that sell books at immense prices. Sometimes, we resort to these bookshops, although most of the time we get books from electronic platforms.

Shurooq al-Ramadai: It used to be that my phone was never short on e-books, but I got tired of the problems that arise with messages and notifications. So I shifted to paper books, as, at the time, there were many stores selling paper copies of selected books. Fortunately for me, my family travels frequently, which allows me to get hard-copy originals from abroad.

Sadiq al-Harasi: There are no original copies since 2015, but there are many sites such as: 3aseer Alkutub, 3aleek Kitabi, Kutub. I also borrowed some books from a friend who bought them while he was in Egypt.

How do you find out about new books?

Workshop photo courtesy Romooz Foundation.

Bakr Alwan: I follow literary contests, online newspapers outside the country, as well as some writers and publishing houses on social media. I also participate in several literary groups.

Fatima Ismael: From fellow writers on social media, or through links that are sent to us to download books.

Shurooq al-Ramadai: Usually from GoodReads, quotes, or suggestions from friends.

Sadiq al-Harasi: Through literary websites and personal book accounts on social media (Facebook, Twitter).

Does the internet (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) change the way literature is shared?

Bakr Alwan: Yes, social media changes the form of literature, and literature appears as packaged for the public. We can see this in the way that short texts that are written—the means of communication have contributed to the emergence of new arts, including the art the very short story. Communication platforms also provide a good opportunity for writers to promote themselves.

Fatima Ismael: Right now, there is no respect for copyright. When we publish any short piece of writing on social media, someone might copy and publish without mentioning the name of the writer… Most writers avoid publishing on social media.

Shurooq al-Ramadai: Yes; the Internet has provided more space to write about all things; even taboos can be written about with a pseudonym, or a first and middle name, or even anonymously.

Sadiq al-Harasi: Yes, as these platforms have created a space that allows a writer to share their articles and literary texts and to let people know about them—instead of looking for a publisher, newspaper, or magazine that publishes literary work cheaply.

What distinguishes Yemeni literature from other Arab and Arabic literatures? 

Workshop photo courtesy Romooz Foundation.

Bakr Alwan:  Yemeni literature is a product of its environment. What distinguishes it are the societal issues that are discussed from different angles.

Fatima Ismael: Yemeni literature is characterized by the fact that most literary works are related to the Yemeni folk heritage, which consists of several cultures and many dialects, and this makes it one-of-a-kind and different; on the other hand, the Yemeni plays and novels from the Yemeni interior have not been highlighted for one central reason, that the literature is still thought of as a hobby, or as a way to fill empty time, no more! As for the Arabs’ picture of Yemeni literature, it’s incomplete, because of the difference of the Yemeni dialect and its multiplicity, although this is the central thing that makes Yemeni literature different and unique.

Shurooq al-Ramadai: It’s not unique, but rare…the issue with Yemeni literature is not that it’s lacking, but that distribution is lacking.

Sadiq al-Harasi: I believe that Yemeni literature is intertwined with the beauty of its cities, as the Yemeni novel is mixed with the decorations of old buildings in Sanaa, the beaches of Aden, and the skyscrapers in Shibam Hadramout. The stories are filled with an ancestral scent and the smell of incense, with the originality of the past and anticipation of a better future. The Yemeni novel has lived through imams, colonialism, the republic, and the revolution, the tribe and the state, love and war, strength and weakness.

What Yemeni writers do you read?

Fatima Khalid: Veteran author Wajdi al-Ahdal

Sadiq al-Harasi: There are many Yemeni writers I read: Habib Abdul-Rab Sorori, Wajdi Al-Ahdal, Ali Al-Muqri, Nadia Al-Kawkabani, Marwan Al-Ghafouri, Mohammed Al-Gharbi Imran, Abdulaziz Al-Maqalih, Abdullah Al-Bardouni, Zaid Mutee Dammaj.

Shroq Alramadi: Wajdi Al-Ahdal, Ali Al-Muqri, and Marwan Al-Ghafouri, Saleh Baamer.

Baker: 1. Zaid Mutee Dammaj; 2. Abdullah Al-Bardouni; 3. Mohamed Abdelwali; 4. Abdulaziz Al-Maqalih; 5. Wajdi al-Ahdal; 6. Ali Al-Muqri; 7. Nadia Al Kawkabani; 8. Muhammad al-Gharbi Imran; 9. Habib Abdul Rabi Seroury; 10. Samir Abdel Fattah. And many others…

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