Tuesday, July 08, 2014

anthology of futuristic Iraqi stories wins English PEN translation grant

An anthology of futuristic short stories by Iraqi authors edited by Hassan Blasim - winner of this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (IFFP) - has been awarded an English PEN grant for translation, through the PEN Translates programme. Manchester-based not-for-profit Comma Press is to publish the anthology  Iraq + 100: Stories from Another Iraq in March 2015, as an Arabic eBook, and as an eBook and paperback in English translation.

"English PEN is proud to support award-winning Iraqi author Hassan Blasim's anthology of short stories Iraq + 100" said a statement from the organisation. "The collection asks ten contemporary Iraqi writers to reflect on what their home city might look like in the year 2103, 100 years after the British/US invasion of the country. The writers will consider the legacy of the war in Iraq, and how it has affected its identity, politics, religion, language and culture."

Hassan Blasim

Blasim and his translator from Arabic Jonathan Wright won IFFP 2014 for Blasim's short story collection The Iraqi Christ, published by Comma. The collection won an English PEN Award. 

Entries for Iraq + 100 are invited by the 1 August deadline. Hassan Blasim will be contributing a story, and other confirmed writers include Ali Bader (Kut), Khaled Kaki (Kirkuk), and Jalal Naim Hasan (Najaf). Further authors are in the pipeline.

The rules for submission of stories for consideration for inclusion in Iraq + 100 stipulate that authors should be Iraqi, and currently based in Iraq. Comma will pay £200 for each story published in the book. The stories set in 2103 must present visions of how the authors imagine life in particular Iraqi cities in 90 years time.

"Each story must tell a stand-alone drama, a complete human story, in less than 6000 words," Comma says (the ideal length is 1250 to 3500 words). "The culture, politics, technology, architecture, and most importantly the language must all be set firmly in the future however, as well as tied to one particular real-life city."

The ten stories in the anthology will be set in ten different Iraqi cities. The rules name 24 Iraqi cities in which stories might be set, 10 of them in Kurdish Iraq, but they add that other cities can be picked. The cities taken by authors so far according to the website are Kirkuk, Najaf, Tikrit, Kut and Nasiriya.

Comma Press hopes that the futuristic setting will give Iraqi authors one of three possible opportunities. The first is to escape completely the political/religious context of Iraq today, and write about a totally different society/environment. The second is to write allegorically about the present (or the recent past, eg the invasion) through the prism of the future; in other words, to project current issues onto an ostensibly otherworldly or unconnected setting, using the future to write about now. The third possibility is to write literally about the influence of the invasion 100 years down the line.

"We invite Iraqi authors from all genres, not just science fiction, and feel that it's just as interesting to ask literary writers to try their  hand at something they've never considered before," say the organisers. "We are interested in stories about relationships, comedies, existential narratives - everything! Not just science fiction and politics!" For writers who would like tips on writing science fiction stories, Comma provides this webpage. The tips are "based on things we’ve noticed over the years and are designed to help avoid some of the common clich├ęs in sci-fi writing."

 Iraq + 100 is supported by the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (Gertrude Bell Memorial).
Authors who would like to write for the Iraq + 100 project are asked to contact both the organisers via email, both to express interest and to check that the city they have in mind has not yet been taken.
Hassan Blasim is at hassanblasim@gmail.com   Ra Page is at ra.page@commapress.co.uk

The Book of Gaza

Iraq + 100 is among 14 books to have won a 2014 English PEN grant for translation. Another Comma short story anthology, The Book of Gaza edited by Atef Abu Saif,  is also on the list. The Book of Gaza is in addition one of the eight titles to win a 2014 English PEN award for promotion, via the PEN Promotes programme. The Book of Gaza was promoted through a UK tour by Abu Saif on 1-11 June. (Abdallah Tayeh, a contributor to the collection, was due to accompany Abu Saif on the tour but he had visa problems and was unable to travel from Gaza to the UK. He participated in tour events via a recording).

Comma Press is working to develop a special translation Arabic Imprint working with Arabic short story writers, with the support of the Centre for the Advanced Study of the Arab World (CASAW)Iraq + 100
is the latest addition to Comma's growing list of works translated from Arabic. Previous titles on the list are Madinah: City Stories from the Middle East, edited by Joumana Haddad; Hassan Blasim's two collections  The Madman of Freedom Square and The Iraqi Christ; and The Book of Gaza. 
report by Susannah Tarbush, London

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