The Libyan writer Ahmed Ibrahim el-Fagih was invited to give a lecture titled (A Writer’s Notes) at the University of New England (Maine –USA) on Monday 24 February 2009. The lecture was sponsored by the department Political Sciences and the department of English and Language Studies at the university.
Professor Ali Abdullatif Ahmida chaired the meeting and introduced the Libyan writer to the audience of professors and students at Sutton Lounge with the following introduction:
Ahmed Ibrahim Fagih, PhD. Is a Libyan writer of international standing, he was born in Mizda, Libya in 1942 and educated in Libya, Egypt, and Scotland. He finished his PhD in literature at University of Edinburgh in 1982. Since 1965 he has written essays, novels, plays, and collections of short stories while holding positions as columnist, diplomat, journalist and director of institute of music and drama in Tripoli, Libya. Dr Fagih has published over 40 books in Arabic and growing number in other languages. The list of his books in English include 5 Novels and 4 collections of short stories and 8 plays many of them were performed in theatres in the United Kingdom and the United States . His writings include the trilogyGardens of the Night which won the award for the best novel in Arabic in 1991. His new novel Maps of the soul was published in 2008.
He founded and chaired many institutions in his country and abroad. Among the posts he held is the chairman of Arab Cultural Trust. He was elected as the general secretary of the Libyan union of writers and artists, the director of Libyan national institute of drama and music. Dr Fagih directed and performed many plays for the theatre group he founded in Tripoli “The New Theatre” and became the editor of the prestigious Libyan Literary paper the (Al Isbu` al-Thaqafi) = (The cultural week) during the seventies.
He was invited with few distinguished Arab writers and artists to participate in a program “Literature and real Arab World” march 7, 2009 part of Kennedy Centers ARABESQUE: Arts of the Arab World. This program is sponsored by the International Division of the John Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts.
Last week, his play, The Singing of the Stars was performed by the DramaSchool at New YorkUniversity, and here is a list of some of Dr Fagih books in English:
Gazelles and Other Plays (Hardcover – Aug.15, 1999)
Valley of Ashes (Hardcover-Aug. Aug. 1999)
5 Novels (Paperback-March 27, 2008)
30 Short stories (Paperback-March 27, 2008)
The Libyan Short Story (Paperback – March 27, 2008)
For more material about the lecturer and his works you can visit his website: www.ahmedfagih.com
A Writer’s Notes
Lecture by: Ahmed Ibrahim Fagih
There are so many questions I faced during a career in writing that spread over almost fifty years, because my name started appearing in newspapers since 1959 writing journalistic articles
My first book of short stories made an impact on the literary circles in 1965 ((The Sea has no water)) when it won me that year the first prize in short story writing from the supreme council of culture , and before that I had some experience in theatre with amateurish groups as a writer and a performer
So these are three forms of literary genres I tried my hand at in the same time while I was still on the threshold of writing, Short stories, essays, plays and later on I added to them the novel which became nowadays the dominant output of many Arab writers including myself.
Of course the decision that was facing me, and causing me a great deal of worries was whether is better for me to go on writing in all these forms of literary expression or to specialize in one of them in order to better serve my writing profession and grant myself a place among the successful writers in the Arab world.
I was aware for sure how whatever multi-talented a writer sees himself, he will be better off pursuing one genre and concentrating his efforts and his talent in writing this one genre dedicating his time and learning and acquiring knowledge and experience in this particular branch instead of scattering his talent and time and effort over many literary branches where he will end up like Jack of all trades master of none.
I tried and found that was not possible, and there are many reasons for that, no tradition to back up such decision, even ancient traditions support writing in different field’s as the old saying says له في كل باع باع
No publishing set up to make it possible to write forms of literature that can only be published in book forms like novels.
No theatre set up to sustain a writer like me aspires to become a full time dramatist
And lastly discovering how easy crossing the linesbetween these literary genres, plus the creative freedom it gives the writer.
The amateurish approach that makes it easy and perhaps luring to write as the spur of the moment dictates.
The very weak response and lack of incentive and the absence of the creative role of the recipient that leave the writer with no option but to depend almost entirely on his personal resources for the support he needs to continue pursuing his literary career.
Unfortunately the alternative for some was to stop writing altogether which was the case with many writers.
The argument with myself over this issue of specializing in one genre or not, continued with me even in later years, but I would end up eventually convincing myself that I had gone now too far writing in this way and getting recognition in them all and I may praise myself for succeeding in being Jack of all trades of writing, mastering all of them in a certain way of course. Only one type of writing that was not really necessary to occupy myself with and that is the journalistic article which we call opinion column, and which was consuming much of my time on daily basis, and wasting so much effort that should have been used and invested in creative writings.
There might had been a reason for writing it with such frequency and for so many years in the earlier times when I was earning my living as a journalist, and writing articles was a way of avoiding the hard job of reporting and going into the streets covering my beat.
But working as an ordinary journalist was only a stage in my life that took a few years then I moved on to become a head of a cultural department in a journal or an Editor-in-chief in another, I even moved to diplomacy where the job entitled no article writing but it calls for the opposite, simply not to write due to sensitive diplomatic situations, yet I would find myself going like a sleep-walker towards that opinion column hundreds of times a tried to stop because it is considered minus from and harmful to my literary out-put.
And I still today and definitely tomorrow and as long as I am able to write I will write my daily and weekly columns.
Trying to find some merit in them instead of blaming myself for writing them and that perhaps will bring me to my second topic most Arab writers of my generation came to the job of writing with a very high sense of mission.
Perhaps as a result of being born and brought up in societies that went through all sorts of misery and suffering before and after independence where, poverty, famines, sickness, high mortality, were the order of the day and where any writer with common decency can not afford to ignore his country’s plight even when the discovery of oil brought some welfare to a country like Libya it did not bring progress and advancement in outlook and way of life for example the state of women in society was ruled by most outdated traditions that prevent women from going without veil and kept them imprisoned within the walls of their houses and prevent them from going to schools so a writer was inclined to share in the fight for the advancement of his society , advocating progress and social change the question that was facing a person like me starting his literary career in the middle of these social and political battleground is not where to stand because I new where my stand is and I never found myself hesitant to declare my loyalty and my intention to lend my voice to my people who had more than their share of suffering.
The question is how could a writer serve the cause of his people without damaging the cause of his art , in other words how could he write the high quality literature that is not burdened with social change mission among those loud ideological voices asking writers to serve the cause of their people by their literature and art and after writing a few plays and a few short stories that are heavily weighed down by the social message I decided to draw a line between the two things I decided to write whatever concerns social change and reform and social or political issues and problems in my journalistic articles and opinion columns liberating my artistic creative writings from the ideological burden leaving them to deal with humanitarian issues solely.
In fact I became through the passage of years an addict to writing opinion columns, no matter how loud the voices within me shouting and warning against them, because they are hindering my creative writing.
I never listen to these voices because I enjoy them, and find in them a chance to express whatever comes to my mind, whatever idea or comment or observation passes my mind, so many ideas that find a way out of my chest that may otherwise find no out let or a literary medium suitable for them to see the light. Opinion columns would put me in daily contact with hot issues and recurrent problems of my society allowing me to dive in the depths of reality which will eventually benefit, in someway or another, my creative writing which shouldn’t after all lose touch with real life or become completely isolated from it.
If I move to another point I would say: among many options that were offered to writers to grant them the better result between planning their literary work, prior to the actual writing especially when it is a long narrative, putting a map to what they were going to write whether a detailed one or not, I would usually opt for not having a plan at all as against the preconceived plan.
Trying to depend heavily on the subconscious mind, giving it the lead, watching over it only from a far distance, or revising the script by the conscious mind after the job is done and might interfere to correct that little thing that may have gone over the edge.
I would always try, when setting to write a work of creative writing, to minimize my intentionally set purpose or objective or would try in anyway to make a work of literature serve any other thing than itself, not attached or belonged or be a servant to any master, I could only see it the master of itself, in other words I never try to impose a topic or ever a theme that’s of interest to me , I leave the characters to what the characters lead me to do with their lives and their world and leave it to the flow of the writing and the spur of the moment to dictate the line of the story and the direction the events, only after the work is done and the job is finished I would see to the end result and find out what the main concern of the work was , and from what I found and what those scholars who studied my works said I could see that the main topic in most of my works is the struggle between old and new , in society, in the country, and above all in the human mind and human soul, perhaps because a writer is conditioned by the conditions of his environment and the world surrounding him for I witnessed the great transformations my country and society went through, not only from the colonial era to independence but also from primitive traditional Bedouin society using tools of production used in ancient times and taking part in plowing land with old wooden plow drawn by a mule or a donkey or a camel living in a tent or a house that knows no electricity using wood fire for cooking and fighting cold, traveling on the backs of camels, drawing water from the well by a bucket, etc.
And then due to the discovery of oil in Libya the sudden change from this primitive ways of life that was repeating and copying ways and means used tens of centuries ago, to the most modern styles of life the camel suddenly became a car and the tent became a modern house with electric tools the bucket of water became modern tubes taking water to modern kitchens and bathrooms plus the technical revolution and digital explosions that filled modern houses with plastic and iron creatures talking and singing and dancing and sharing us our life and helping us manage our affairs.
This I think left its mark on what I have been writing, among other factors of course, that contributed to the shaping, mostly without my intentions, the themes and topics and visions appearing in my literary works.
This insignificant part played by will power and conscious mind in our creative writings is just natural since the talent for writing is not something that can be acquired , it is not something we choose to do like when we decide to study medicine or engineering or teaching or law or any other known profession other than creative art and writing , it is a profession that can not by chosen , it chooses whomever it likes, so it is not a strange thing therefore to dictate on him what it likes even in his vision and outlook.
Finally freedom of expression and it is restrictions in third world countries is always an issue which a writer in that part of the world has to tackle and fine away to deal with it or go around it, I think the areas that where conflict is likely to occur with authorities or establishment are two areas politics and religion , as for creative writings its very unlikely to produce quarrel, for myself although I touch upon political and religious issues I always find a way by which I express my opinions and explain my differences in a way that’s acceptable by other parties , of course there were occasions where I was in quarrel with a censor but not to the point that threatens my freedom or puts my life in jeopardy.
These only a few points I thought to put in front of you in order to help in creating a dialogue that could benefit all the people in this hall, Thanks to you for your attendance and thanks to the University of New England for inviting me to lecture among this distinguish audience and finally thank to my friend and countryman professor Ali Ahmida for his introduction.