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.