Reaching out for that dust-covered pen, as the ancient Egyptian and Arabic roots reawaken, allowing fearless thoughts to be transmitted from the soul into ink – this is journalist Mahmoud Mansi’s dream for Egyptian writers.
Mansi, 28, is the founder of the Forgotten Writers Project, a non-profit, Alexandria-based society that seeks to motivate Egyptian writers to address under-covered topics through international competitions. The competitions, which Mansi hopes will help globalise Egyptian literature, are the first of their kind in Egypt.
“A writer should have strong uncommon ideas, and should be brave enough to write them down, in an artistic way,” said Mansi, who started writing when he was 16 years old and wrote his first book, “A Journey from Darkness to Light”, as a university student.
In particular, Mansi believes writers should trust their Egyptian origin, because Arabs were the first nation to start writing powerful literature.
“Egyptian writers… need to confront their own taboos in writing,” he said.
The publishing industry, however, only cares about certain bestselling topics, he said. Some writers produce outstanding work, but do not have the funds or do not know how to publish it.
“We give attention to those,” he said. “We call them the forgotten writers.”
The Forgotten Writers Project has been blending literature with global issues since the first competition it launched, “Resurrection of Ancient Egypt”, which encouraged writers to delve into Egyptology. The society published the winning stories in a book illustrated with paintings. In addition to honouring Egyptian writers, the society also selected winners from the United States, Germany, Finland, Brazil, Malta, Lithuania, and South Africa.
In partnership with Diwan bookstores, Kayan publishing house, and a New York newspaper, the society is currently accepting entries in three competitions. The first seeks short stories about motherhood. The second, titled the “Messenger Writing Competition, will honour pieces that eulogise the prophets of Islam. In the third competition, the society requests that writers produce 20- to 35-page plays using seven dictators from history.
“Many competitions and programmes focus on the making of democracy, justice and equality,” Mansi wrote in the competition guidelines. “However, in this one, we are focusing on the complete opposite extreme. We strongly believe that both sides of the coin, the light and the darkness, reality and fiction, do impact us strongly as philosophical artists.”
The number of entries has tripled since the foundation was founded in 2011, Mansi said. He views this year as the birth year of the Forgotten Writers.
“It is the year we say ‘we are here’,” he said.