New to Watch: Online Video Discussions with Algerian Writers

Anissa Daoudi, Lecturer in Arabic and Translation Studies at the University of Birmingham, has started a series of live video interviews with Algerian writers, with a focus on narratives and translations from 1990s Algeria, known as the “black decade.”

The first event was hosted on April 20, a live discussion with the Algerian novelist Fadhila al-Farouq (Taa al khajal). The second, April 30, was with Algerian writer and journalist H’mida Ayachi (Dédales). Both talks are still available at the group  “1990s Narratives of Algeria,” / “سرديات وترجمات الأدب الجزائري في فترة العشرية السوداء.”

The next session, yet to be scheduled, will be with Algerian novelist Bachir Mufti, whose Toy of Fire was shortlisted for the 2012 International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Mufti, who was born in Algiers, has published a number of short story collections and novels, including: Archipelago of Flies (2000); Witness of the Darkness (2002); Perfumes of the Mirage (2005); Trees of the Resurrection (2007) and Maps of Nightly Passion (2009).

Between sessions, Anissa Daoudi answered a few questions about the project:

What made you start this group?

Anissa Daoudi: Like everyone else confined at home, I felt that I could engage with my postgraduate students, here in Birmingham, UK, and students in Algeria and elsewhere; the writers who work on the 1990s; and more importantly with Algerian intellectuals and be part of what’s going on now. I guess I wanted to continue with the spirit of the New Revolution, which started on the 22nd of February, the Hirak. I wanted to challenge the official narratives, aiming to open up free discussions about what really happened during the Civil War, known as the Black Decade. My aim is to collect as many testimonies as possible; testimonies through literature, through arts, and eyewitness testimonies, which will give the opportunity for individual memories to be included in the collective memory, and hopefully contributing in the writing of what I call “alternative history of Algeria.”

Who are you hoping to reach out to? What sort of audiences?

AD: I would like to reach out to those who might not have the opportunity to speak out, minorities, like women who have been victims of terrorism, postgraduate students who might not have access to the literature on the 1990s in English/French, and also give my PhD students access to the writers they work on. I mean to provide the opportunity to the students to listen to the writers and engage with them. I have a student who asked a question relevant to her work. Also, this gives the opportunity to Algerian writers to be known in the Anglophone world.  I intend to translate the interviews into English. By doing so, I’ll provide research data to researchers.

How are you choosing writers? Which writers are you hoping to have in the future? 

AD: I chose the writers who have published on the theme of the Algerian Civil War. In fact, I am inviting artists, for example, the well-known artist Denis Martinez, who lived through the Algerian Civil War and whose best friends were assassinated at the time when intellectuals were targeted.  I will also invite filmmakers, etc. As for the future writers, my next guest will be Bachir Mufti, followed by the activist and journalist Malika Boussouf (Francophone), who writes for Le Soir d’Algerie.  She has a brilliant novel  in French called Vivre Traquee, where she talks about the life of journalists in the 1990s, and what it meant to be a female, Francophone, and a journalist at that time. Cherifa Kheddar, who is the Director of the Djazairouna Association and whose brother and sister were in front of her eyes and her mother’s eyes in the family home will also be invited. Amine Zaoui and many more.

Is this only for the shutdown time, or do you see the series continuing?

AD: The interviews have been popular so far, reaching 1000s of views, which is an encouragement to continue.

What do you think it takes to have a successful online literary event? 

AD: I think the most important  thing is to know well the literature you are presenting.  In my case, I think I am lucky that I have been working on the “narratives and translations” of the 1990s for a while now.  I think it is important to identify who your target viewers are and who are the people who might be interested in what you say are, and to approach them directly.  The online nature of the event necessitates that your questions should be precise and concise. I think we take a little longer, accept technology hiccups, and enjoy the whole experience.  After every interview, I feel that I have visited Algeria from my house in Oxford.