Arab Prison Literature

Over the past week I've been busy attending a whirl-wind of talks and cultural events and I'm just getting around to writing about them now. One of them was a symposium on Arab prison literature at NYU, which allowed me to finally meet Egyptian author Sonallah Ibrahim, who mentioned that his first writings were on cigarette papers while in prison between 1959 and 1964. (He also explained that his habit of saving newspaper clippings--on which his novel "Zaat" for example is very dependent--started when he was an adolescent and, he says, would clip pictures of "half-naked" ladies from the papers. "As my consciousness expanded other material made its way into my archive," he said.)

I also got to hear Moroccan author Fatna Al Bouih read from her beautiful prison memoir حديث العتمة (My unsure translation is "Talk of Darkness"), as well as from dissident writers such as the Iranian Monireh Baradan and the Turkish Feride Cicekoglu. These women's courage and grace cannot be overstated.

Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.