5Q Interview: Ghada Al-Absy (Egypt) 2017 IWP resident

The Writing University conducts is a series of interviews with writers while they are in Iowa City participating in the International Writing Program's fall residency. We sit down with authors to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home.

Today we are talking with Ghada Al-Absy, a fiction writer and physician from Egypt. 

1. Do you have a plan or project in mind for your time at the residency?

I'm working on my fourth novel (Kozzika) which’s named for the famous Greek brewer (Theodore Theokhari Kozzika), the first to introduce craft beer in Egypt in the early 19s, and created such famous brewery in a place called (Tura), which’s found on the river Nile, and came from the name (Troy) in reference to the Hellenistics who inhabited the area in the Roman ancient times. The place is not so far from Gianaclis vineyards and winery as well. The novel tells more about the secret life of spiritual drinks in Cairo especially after 1919 revolution, with many intersecting stories about the men and their families who worked with Kozzika, telling much about dreams and frustrations of the Egyptians under pressure of English occupation coinciding with the rise of Om Kolthoum, and how the Egyptians regained their awareness through arts.

Also, I plan to start writing my new book:

(A tale of two cities of literature: Iowa and Baghdad.)

I find it a great opportunity to write about two UNESCO cities of literature, as I was lucky to visit both of them!

2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?

I think that daily practice is committing to a new book, whether by writing or reading. In fact, the flowing of thoughts and emotions inside of me never stop even the dreams are so much inspiring. I can say that I’m in a continuous state of writing even without using words, it may take some time from me to find a phrase to start with, and too much time is spent on research before beginning a new novel or short story collection.

I believe in what George Bernard Shew said: The golden rule is that there are no golden rules. So I have no certain writing rituals or specific routine. You never know when or how you’ll be inspired to write.

3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?

I read now: The Coptic art in Egypt- 2000 years of Christianity. It’s a memorial book of an exhibition which was held in Paris (Institut du monde Arabe) published by Gallimard. Reading it is for both research and pleasure. The Coptic Egyptian art is my topic of interest. I find it so unique because it’s not so perfect and miraculous like the Pharaonic art, but on the contrary, it seems to be so real and human! Pharaonic art is that of Gods while Coptic art is the art of humanity.

4. What is one thing the readers and writers of Iowa City should know about you and your work?

Honestly, I believe that a good writer should have a hand of a worker, a nose of a perfumer, a heart of a composer and a mind of a detective, may be a voice of a singer to write with as well! Writers should be as flexible as air, so they can reach the inside of people and things easily. In my second novel (The green Cobbler-Fantasy of whisper and scorpions), here I imagined a special unification between a human (a neonate) and a plant (wheat seed was inserted inside the baby’s left ear), growing together inside the same body, the wheat spikes grow and come out of the baby’s ear discoloring his iris with its own colors during phases of growth. By time and through extraordinary shoemaking, this human created his own world together with his growing seed. His talent was not only hearing and understanding the seed whispering to him, but also it was making shoes which look like the souls of their owners.

5. Tell us a bit about where you are from -- what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?

In the old book: Description of Egypt, one of the French savants said while he was describing a simple Egyptian citizen: when you look at him lying on the floor over a mat made of wicker in such hot weather you’ll think this man knows nothing about the world, you’re so wrong, just try to ask him about anything: people or history and then you’ll be astonished by his charming detailed answers like a professional narrator.

Egypt is the land of stories, where pharaohs mythology exist together with beloved Gods, priests ,prophets and simple loving people knocking the doors of mosques and churches to be cured from pain, illness, and hatred. You’ll find the Egyptian solution to the most complicated problems like shortage of food or water or medical care they just adapt and have such extraordinary reverence for life as much as their ancestors were dreamers of eternity.

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Thank you so much, Ghada!

Ghada Al-Absy will be reading