Tarek Eltayeb: Kommunikation in Echtzeit

The Writing University Website hosted a live discussion with IWP alum Tarek Eltayeb on March 5, 2010. You can read the transcripts in English, German and Arabic below.

Die Writing University Website hat am Freitag, 5.3. zwischen 11 -12.Uhr (CST) zu einem Echtzeit-Chat mit dem IWP Alumnus Tarek Eltayeb eingeladen.

Das Gespräch wurde durchgehend im Englisch und Deutsch gehalten; die nachfolgende Abschrift wird ins Englisch und Arabisch übersetzt.


English: Live Discussion
Deutsch: Lesen Sie die Kommunikation in Echtzeit
Arabic: ياسر عبد اللطيف

Live Discussion: 

Ashur Etwebi, Tripoli, Libya: Being a son of Sudanese parents, born in Egypt, living in Austria, it seems that you don't think much of nationality (as identity). the references to your writings are they: Egyptian, Sudanese or Austrian? or no particular reference?

Tarek Eltayeb: For me there is no such thing as different identities but rather one identity with many facets; and within it it is always possible to change, to add or to give up something. To me this appears as an ongoing process, not something rigid and closed but rather a continually changeable stance. Identity includes one’s historical and cultural heritage, but not flags or names of states. Much like when you learn a new language, you don’t forget the others bur rather add to them. I was born in Cairo of Sudanese parents, lived in Egypt for 25 years, and have now lived In Austria for the same length of time. How should I then draw a boundary between these places, all of which influenced and formed me, how could I forget or expunge one of them.

Yasser Abdel-latif, Egypt -- Canada: Dear Tarek, do you place yourself among Egyptian writers, or Sudanese writers or Arab writers in the European diaspora?

Tarek Eltayeb: No, I’d simply like to see myself as a writer, without a country affiliation. Of course, as for the language in which I write, it is Arabic, and living in Egypt has naturally been an influence, right alongside the fact of my Sudanese roots and of my 25 years in Vienna.

Language is of course one criterion of belonging but I myself cannot decide on an affiliation. My Arabic-language books have been published in Egypt and many writers in the realm of Arabic literature are my friends and colleagues and the same goes for here: my translations are published here, I do readings with my (Austrian) colleagues, have many times been invited somewhere as an Austrian writer etc.

It doesn’t bother me when others associate me with a particular country but I myself really can’t to do that. And I don’t see myself as a diaspora writer at all—I’ve been living in Europe for 25 years yet return to Egypt all the time, where I maintain contacts and relationships.

Nora, Iowa City: How different is your thought process as a writer when you write in German in comparison to when you write in Arabic? Do you feel each language provokes a different voice inside you?

Tarek Eltayeb: Up until this point I have always written my literary texts in Arabic, my mother tongue. But in my head the two languages have now undoubtedly become accustomed to each other, and influence each other throughout.

I love German, the language that makes up my daily life and that has now also overtaken my dreams, but Arabic remains the tool of my writing for my eyes, thoughts and letters insist on wandering from right to left.

Douglas, North Liberty: I believe you were in the IWP at the UI a few years ago -- did you enjoy your time in Iowa?

Tarek Eltayeb: My stay in Iowa in the context of the IWP residency was a very good experience, in many ways: first off, it was an encounter with a literary family, with the many authors from the various continents and speaking varied languages—that alone was an exceptional experience. I learned a whole lot from the ongoing exchange, the shared projects, the opportunities to listen to others’ views during the assorted readings and panels. What was for me completely new was life in a small university town like Iowa City, with its beautiful campus—a city experience of a whole new kind.

A big challenge, if ultimately a good one, was to spend a relatively long stretch (3 months) speaking almost exclusively in a foreign language, in this case English. I was especially excited about the experimental translation project with native speakers of English who had no Arabic and with whom I translated some of my texts from the Arabic into the English, becoming a mediator in my attempts to make my verse comprehensible in the English language.

We took part in a variety of cultural and literary events and visits, in Chicago, San Francisco, Connecticut, Washington DC and New York; especialy exciting were the two events at Northwestern and Georgetown universities.

For me this was a truly valuable time, on one hand because of the many friendships potentially leading to exchanges with so many other writers, yet at the same time because of the peace I had to concentrate on my writing. I managed to finish a volume of poems and to substantively work out an idea for a novel (Wake Up in Iowa) .

Elizabeth, Iowa City: Hi Tarek -- What was it like working for Between the Lines? Did you enjoy working with younger writers, especially writers from a different culture?

Tarek Eltayeb: I was really excited at the prospect of these two weeks of BTL, as this was going to be an altogether new experience. And my two weeks of work with these young people, so talented and so varied, were at once fun and joyful. I have always hoped to experience a gathering of this kind, and this was a huge challenge. I loved working with the group, and in turn learned and received so much from these young authors, taking in their creativity and their enthusiasm.

Erin, IC IA: What is your writing routine? How do you write -- is it during a certain time of day?

Tarek Eltayeb: I always carry a small notebook and write down whatever occurs to me—at times just a thought or an observation, at times a poem or its skeleton. And when I have gathered enough, when the ideas have become more concrete, then I usually begin a period of intensive work. I don’t have set work times but I do prefer writing at night, when things have quieted down.

Ashur Etwebi, Tripoli, Libya: Your writings took wide spectrum, from poetry to short story and novels. Do you look at yourself as a poet, a short story writer or a novelist, or all of them?

Tarek Eltayeb: Writing for me is like a current flowing through different landsapes—from the mountains down into the valleys, flatlands forests, steppes, though warm and cold regions—yet the water remains the same. I begin with an idea in my head, which then determines the form in which I will put it on paper. The idea is my raw material from which I then craft poetry or prose –depending on which feels easier as I write, depending on what seems the best way of expressing it and working it through. So I couldn’t really say in which of these I feel best.

Ashur Etwebi, Tripoli, Libya: In one of your articles, you said that you consider the Sudanese novelist, Altyeb Saleh, a short story writer and not a novel writer, although he wrote an introduction to one of your earlier short story collection. On what bases did reach to such conclusion? And Do you still have the same opinion?

Tarek Eltayeb: That must have been a misunderstanding. What I had meant to say was that I think Eltayeb Saleh is a terrific writer and that I see his talent not in the least in his short stories, which in my view have not received as much respect and attention as his novels.