Novelist Ghada Abdul Aziz Khalid:
- In America they ignore from any point in the world we are.
- The participation of women in competitions proves their confidence in what they write
- The multiplicity and diversity of contexts and cultures enrich the writer’s experience.
- Celebrating Tayeb Salih by the "Katara" emphasises the importance of his outstanding additions in the field of narrative writing.
KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - Ghada Abdel Aziz Khaled is considered one of the most prominent voices in the Sudanese cultural scene. She traces the first Sudanese novelist Malkat Ed-Dar Mohamed who wrote “The Wide Hollowness”. Ghada represents a new generation and a different vision from that of the pioneer generation. She published two novels, “If you only Knew” (Littak Taalam) and “Some Tenderness” (Chy’un Min Hanane). The publication of these novels was recently celebrated at the Khartoum International Book Fair; alongside her book "Something from Selena" (Chay’un Min Selena), and which is a variety of newspaper articles. Ghada graduated from Nebraska University of Omaha and graduated with a master's degree in media studies from the University of San Jose in California. She worked for the Sudanese press and a correspondent for the Sudanese Blue Nile channel in the United States of America. Sudanow met her in Khartoum and conducted the following dialogue with her.
SUDANOW: You moved between different societies: Sudan, Egypt and America, you experienced the estrangement and have been far away from the family, to what extent did this experience affect your cultural construction?
Ghada: The multiplicity and diversity of the cultures and contexts has had a significant impact on my writings. In Sudan, I was still a child who loved reading children’s magazines and graphic novels. In Cairo, I discovered Naguib Mahfouz, Youssef Al Subai, and Ihssan Abdul Qudoos, the desire of multiple readings started and the passion of writing began. When we moved to America, I was very busy studying but questions began to be raised as I was discovering this completely different society. My friendships with people from different Arab countries, especially from Morocco, Algeria, Qatar and Jordan opened to me new horizons that enabled me to interact with different cultures and to know various writers. Estrangement always motivates you and pushes you to new friendships.
Q: We know that a number of Arab writers emigrated to the West; the question is about their interaction with the new contexts and the impact of Western life on them.
A: Western life is totally different for Arab writers in terms of culture, behavior, and perception, all seen from another angle. When we went to America, for example, people there used to ask where we were from. When we said from Sudan, they asked where is Sudan? They totally ignored from any point in the world we are. Life in the West raises in the Arab writers a lot of questions; how they can, for example, interact with other communities, and then, all their focus is on how to represent Arab culture in its real and shinning image to American communities. On the other hand, nostalgia for the homeland and for the roots plays a tremendous role in Arab writings. Usually, writers in exile see their country in a deeper and more beautiful manner. For example, I have a great desire to return to Sudan. This desire is exteriorized in my writings and in my last novel “Some Tenderness”. The positive impact usually resides in the access to Western literature and acquirement of further knowledge.
Q: In the light of your readings of women author’s novels, how much do they relate to women's issues and concerns in the Arab societies?
A: I think that women writings advanced substantially. In the past we didn’t use to hear that there were women novelists in Arab countries. Nowadays, you can find titles of women author’s novels in the libraries of almost all Arab states. Women are now more educated and more open to knowledge. They began to discuss issues of Arab society as a whole and to contribute to finding solutions. Women's issues expanded and evolved, overlapping in all angles and questions. There are the family, children issues and the issues of human rights and society. There is a great development in awareness and knowledge.
Q: Some Arab women writers won Arab novel awards and even non-Arab novel awards such as Leila Aboulela who won the Caine Prize for African Writing, and Samiha Khreis who won lately the Katara award. What do you think of that?
A: This win is undoubtedly a great asset for Arab women here and there. In the year before the last, women were more involved in the Katara award than the previous years, and this is a sign of the development of women's writings. The application of women for the awards is in itself a proof of their confidence in what they write. The awards offer women great confidence to compete in writing fiction and other literary genres as well. This means that their visions have widened greatly and that their writings are greater than the surroundings of the societies they live in.
Q: There are those who believe that women will become the leaders of novel writing?
A: I think so; women have evolved a lot. They are good readers and their view of life is deeper. We can notice this remarkable development, and if they go ahead this way, then men should be careful. Still, this doesn’t mean that men are not great writers. Then tell me, who started narration first, men or women? May God’s Mercy be upon our “grandmothers”, they were the first to set the rules of our stories on the nights of the moon.
Q: The overlap between the private and the public in narrative writing leads to questions about the writer's private life and his/her relationship with the characters and events of his work.
A: In Amir Taj Elsir’s novel “Sa’id al-Yaraqat” (The Grub Hunter) I read that the hero tried to learn how to write fiction, then he was told that in fiction truth and imagination are mingled, they complement each other, and reality is not necessarily the writer's reality, it might be the reality of common people, and as Amir Taj says “this is the reality I know, besides some imagination and fantasy”. The writer imagines the personalities and how they would live and interact with events.
Q: How about bilingualism and Arab writers (especially immigrants), for example, Leila Aboulela writes in English, Waciny Laredj in French and Arabic, you in Arabic?
A: I think that writing is a spiritual mood, and the writer writes in the language he/she feels comfortable with, the language in which they can highlight aesthetic features and ideas in a manner that satisfies them. Leila Aboulela, for example, finds that she expresses herself better in English and has acquired chapters in the study of the novel there in English, and Waciny was shaped between France and Algeria by more than one language and in more than one society. I see that there is no harm in that Arab writers write in other languages. This will certainly be the link between our Arab culture and those communities. According to my experience, I feel at ease when I write in Arabic even though I studied journalism and media in English and I live in America. Every writer has his/her own vision and language is no longer a barrier to the ideas of the writer. Languages may differ but the meanings do not.
Q: There are those who believe that Tayeb Salih is the ceiling of the novel.
A: Tayeb Salih is undoubtedly an authority and a great writer, but I say the higher the ceiling is the more other writers will raise it. Creative writing is an open space that is not bound by a roof.
Q: Through your follow-up, did the narrative texts express the fragmented Arab reality in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions?
A: We still say the Arab Spring, it is not over. There are still secret wars, the Arab Spring has not come to fruition, and literature reacts with all the reality and what is happening. The experience itself needs to be revisited and read. This experience may have a greater impact in the future and a wider appearance.
Q: At this session, the Katara award celebrated Tayeb Salih, the genius of Arabic Literature, and you also served on the Board of Trustees of the Tayeb Salih International Award. How do you read this celebration?
A: Salih is a Sudanese figure, an Arab figure and a global figure. Celebrating him in Sudan corresponds to celebrating him at the Arab and international levels. Celebrating him by the "Katara" is a great positive addition that emphasizes the importance of his outstanding additions in the field of narrative writing, especially as it is a great prize and a commemoration of him.
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