Q&A with Ahdaf Soueif

Q: We are using the same topics as the 1962 conference. Why do you think 50 years on the question of should literature be political needs to be revisited and how do you think this debate will differ from the one 50 years ago?

A:  All important questions need to be revisited periodically. I’m coming to this with an open mind. I hope people will be just as passionate as they were 50 years ago – and perhaps discuss broader issues.

Q: You have dual English and Egyptian citizenship and you were educated in England and Egypt. Which works were particularly influential on you and how have they shaped your sense of political identity?

A: I have been enormously influenced by English Literature, and by the Russians, French, Italians and South Americans in English translations.  Oddly, George Eliot, and particularly Middlemarch and the Mill on the Floss always meant a great deal to me, and in different ways at different stages.

Q: What role do you think literature played in the recent Egyptian revolution.

A: I think what literature does/did prepare a climate, set the scene. For years novelists, poets, essayists, have in their different ways been describing the ills we’ve been suffering from inEgypt. A spate of dystopias appeared over the last 5 years for example.  In, or during the revolution itself I don’t think there’s room for fiction. The poets truly came to the fore. Contemporary poets like Amin Haddad, Ahmad Haddad, Tamim Barghouti, Abd el-Rahman el-Abnoudi gave voice to the revolution; their work was recited and sung in the streets. For us fictioneers, we turned to the essay as the most immediate form of engagement.

Q: After Edinburgh the World Writers’ Conference will travel around the world including Cairo later in the year. What do you hope the conference will bring to Cairo? And which other countries’ perspective are you most looking forward to hearing from?

A:  I hope the conference will be open to the experience of being in Cairo and I hope something very interesting will come of the interaction between it and the city. I would love to hear what people in India, and people in South America think about these issues.

Q: What do you think a World Writers Conference in 2062 would look like?

A: Pretty much the same, I hope. I mean what kind of world would it be that didn’t discuss the questions being put forward at the conference?


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