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from Issue Number 7, Spring-Summer 2017

Despatches: Tunis, Tunisia
by Ali Znaidi

Despite constantly rising difficulties in the book sector, writers in the cities and small towns of Tunisia strive to add an authentic voice to the chorus of written literature and to find readership, given the fact that Tunisians are not big readers of literary books. In this regard, literary festivals and book fairs play a role to lure people to the realm of books and literature.

On the occasion of the fourth annual City of Tunis Book Fair, a literary meeting was held on February 21, 2017 under a large tent planted in Habib Bourguiba Avenue—the central thoroughfare of Tunis. The meeting was organized by renowned Tunisian novelist Kamel Riahi to discuss the aesthetics of the image in short story writing. It revolved around the experience of two Tunisian writers—Houyem Ferchichi and Fatma Ben Mahmoud.

Houyem Ferchichi is a literary journalist and short story writer. She has published her short stories and poems in numerous Tunisian and Arab literary magazines. She is the author of several short story collections, including The Scene and the Shadow and Secret Tattoos.

Fatma Ben Mahmoud is a poet and fiction writer. She worked as a philosophy teacher at Tunisian secondary schools. Then, she joined journalism because she loves writing. She writes prose poetry, flash fiction, and essays. She is mostly known for her micro poems and flash poetry. Her language is characterized by simplicity and at the same time by high levels of semantic density and richness. She has published three poetry collections, including Another Desire Doesn't Interest Me, What the Poem Hasn't Said, and The Rose Which I Don't Name. As for prose, she has published a collaborative short story collection with Moroccan writer Abdallah Al Mouttaqi titled Dreams Extending their Fingers . She has also published a fictional autobiography titled A Woman at the Time of the Revolution.

Houyem Ferchichi considers the individual experience very important in creating beautiful images and scenes in short stories. Ferchichi highlights the importance of living and appropriating the situations the writer wants to convey in short stories or novels. According to her, this gives credibility to the narrative text. On the contrary, Fatma Ben Mahmoud believes that writers can employ fictional images without the necessity of living them. She strongly stresses the fact that writers can search for the aesthetics of the image in short story writing in the realistic experiences and lives of other people.

Kamel Riahi also organized another literary meeting on February 23, 2017 in the same venue with Hedi Thabet: a pioneer Tunisian science fiction writer who surprised the Tunisian literary scene in 1999 with his novel (Ghar Eljinn) The Cave of the Jinns, and then followed it with another novel titled ( Jabel Elliyine ) Elliyine Mountain.

Despite difficulties in the book sector and the publishing industry, there is an increase in Tunisian poets. Publishing houses also publish several books of poetry each year. There is also something of a buzz around Tunisian poetry as some poets have been at some reputable international poetry festivals despite the lack of translation.

The talented Besma Maroueni, who has poems published in numerous Tunisian and Arab literary magazines, released her second poetry collection titled Revelations on the Edge of Abstraction. Her first poetry collection, A Cresset on the Clouds' Roof was released in 2014. Revelations on the Edge of Abstraction is a collection redolent of mystic scents and imbued with Sufi images and ideas which are generated from a romantic diction. This is my translation of some lines from this collection.

Trees hug the moon's neck.
The sea fertilizes the womb of the beaches.
The sky's breasts drip wine out of the clouds.
I write down the prophets' messages in the resurrection books.
Life is not a prostitute for death's body.

In this collection Maroueni takes adventure in abstraction to reach the ecstasy of thought, while singing her repressed joy.

Reem Gomri also released her second poetry collection titled I Tattooed My Amulets on My Body. It is a 140-page collection bringing together 28 poems, most of them prose poems. By way of conclusion of this report from my country, here is my translation of a few of the lines from Gomri's collection.

Where did I come from?
They named me without asking my permission.
They bequeathed me their bodies' curses,
then said,
“This is your heritage.
Live in peace with it and smile!”

 

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