In recent years, Egypt’s publishing houses have started to invest in harvesting a new pool of talent to capitalize on the current literary boom.
Malamih, for instance, are chiefly catering their publications to youth while Dar El-Shorouk published the hugely successful collection of entries from three young female bloggers at the end of 2007.
Now, the Maadi bookstore and culture hub Kotob Khan is joining the lot with “Al-Sabe’a wa Al-Nesf Masa’a Al-Arba’ (Half Past Seven on Wednesday Evening), the first book to be published under its banner. “Half Past Seven, a collection of short personal stories, is the fruit of a writing workshop organized by the bookstore that began in September 2006 and ended in June 2008.
The idea of the workshop was suggested by the bookstore’s owner, Karam Youssef, to her friend, writer and poet Yasser Abdel-Lateef, who had wanted to organize a similar project.
“The theme of the workshop was to transform personal writing into creative writing, said Abdel-Lateef. “We sent out e-mails about the workshop and then had a screening process, from which we chose 11 writers. At the end, eight of the writers stayed.
“I strongly believe many of them will be good writers, Youssef said, adding that the goal of the workshop was not to have turned those young writers into professionals overnight; “But I am sure if they continue working hard on their writing skills they will be good [writers]. It is a lifetime process.
“Yasser really knows what he is doing, said Amira Abu Taleb, one of the participants. “Following a guideline and having specific topics to write about made the writing experience easier. We started by writing a story on Maadi and then a confessional story and at the end we wrote about a moment of peace that we’ve experienced.
Abu Taleb has never had her work published before. “I only wrote thoughts or if something is bothering me, she said, adding that she intends to take a shot at doing it professionally.
“I wrote many short stories before the workshop, but was never committed enough, Khaled Rabea, another participant said. “The workshop raised my level of commitment.
Dina El-Hawary, who’s been writing via her blog since 2004, said: “The workshop made my writing bolder than before; I learned to experiment and try new styles.
Kotob Khan is planning a second workshop entitled The First Novel. The door is open for applicants who can send their work to [email protected] before Jan. 20. The best chosen work of the workshop will be published.
“The [second] workshop will be different from the first since writers will present their ideas for a novel and we will work on it throughout the workshop, Abdel-Lateef said. “The writers will also have assigned reading on the theory of the novel and others.
During the first workshop, participants did not expect their works to be published even though that’s what they were told at the beginning.
“I feel extremely happy, said Abu Taleb “It’s an uphill battle getting published. Many writers end up publishing at their own expense.
“I think it was a big challenge for Karam to get our works published, since we are all amateur writers and it required a lot of devotion, Rabea said.
Youssef is dedicated to lifting the community culturally and encouraging quality writing. She says publishing the book was a worthwhile risk even though the bookstore does not have its own printing facilities. After seeing the success of the first workshop, Kotob Khan plans to publish more books.
As for the emerging wave of young writers, Youssef believes the abundance of work and multiple voices is a healthy, promising sign for Egyptian literature in general. “Of course not every published work is good but there are good writers and good writings. Time will prove the good from the bad.