Libyan writers at the London Book Fair April 2011: L to R Hisham Matar, Ghazi Gheblawi, Mohamed Mesrati, Giuma Bukleb, with the editor of Banipal magazine Iraqi writer Samuel Shimon
article from qantara.de 19 August 2011
Libyan writers in exile: In support of the uprising
Due to the well-nigh total oppression of cultural life during 42 years of Gaddafi's dictatorship, Libyan literature has for decades been produced abroad. But with the uprising, everything has changed for them, too. Susannah Tarbush reports
This is proving to be a momentous year not only for Libyan politics and history but also for the country's literature. Libyan poets and fiction writers, particularly those in exile, have emerged as some of the most eloquent and credible Libyan voices to be heard internationally in support of the uprising during its first six months.
They have been speaking out in a variety of forums – newspaper articles, radio and TV interviews, on the social media, at conferences and literary festivals.
Eyes have also been focused on their creative writing. The prizewinning London-based Libyan novelist Hisham Matar said at the London Book Fair in April: "If you want to know any country you read its poems and its novels; what literature gives you is not only the news of the place but the spirit of the place and the preoccupations of the place."
Certainly, readers have been turning to Matar's two novels, "In the Country of Men" and "Anatomy of a Disappearance", to try to deepen their understanding of Libya.
Literary production inspired by the uprising
"Literature conveys not only the news of the place but the spirit of the place": Hisham Matar has been living in London since 1986 The uprising has inspired some Libyan writers to produce new poems and fiction. They include the acclaimed award-winning poet and translator Khaled Mattawa who was born in Benghazi in 1964 and teaches creative writing at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. In his poem "Now that we have Tasted Hope", Mattawa conveys the defiance and aspirations of the revolution. It begins:
Now that we have tasted hope
Now that we have come out of hiding,
Why would we live again in the tombs we'd made out of our souls?
Mattawa has also written a series of beautifully crafted articles on the revolution for the international media.
The uprising has seen an interplay between writers inside and outside Libya. In areas of the country wrested from regime control, a multiplicity of voices is being heard. "There is a boom in civil society organisations all over free Libya," the Libyan surgeon, short-story writer, and award-winning blogger and podcaster Ghazi Gheblawi said in an interview with Qantara in London, where he lives. "A new association of journalists has been established, and a few weeks ago a new union for Libyan writers was founded in Benghazi. Writers in free Libya are involved in many new publications, with more focus on new literature."
Writers risking their lives
Gheblawi pays tribute to writers within Libya. "The amount of involvement of Libyan writers in the Libyan revolution inside Libya is tremendous," he says. "Many of them were involved before the revolution, many were vital in getting the truth to the outside world, and many have been detained, tortured and face horrors."..continued..