Yasser Abdel-Latif Live Discussion

The Writing University website hosted an online chat with International Writing Program alum Yasser Abdel-Latif at 2:00 p.m. (CST) Friday, Feb. 26th. Abdel-Latif discussed modern literature in Egypt, his experience in Iowa among IWP writers, as well as his philosophy of teaching writing. You can find samples of Abdel-Latif's writing at the IWP website. Yasser Abdel Latif participated in the 2009 IWP residency courtesy of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the US Department of State.

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Maddalena, Iowa City: Mr. Abdel-Latif, you are a poet, translator, novelist, and scriptwriter--so many different fields. Do you believe that a successful writer must be a master of multiple forms?

Yasser Abdel-Latif: I consider my self a prose writer that commit the poetry sometimes. the translation and writing for the screen i do it to gain bread, as you cannot live from literature in my country. Even Naguib Mahfouz, our only Noble prize winner(1988) use to work as a journalist and scriptwriter to gain life.

But also as a paid translator or scriptwriter i choose topics that suites my literary interests.
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Coco, Iowa City: Yasser, I would like to know more about your time in Iowa City. How did you enjoy living and writing in the U.S.A.?

Yasser Abdel-Latif: My first impression about Iowa city as a man coming from a 22 millions of habitants city like Cairo, that It is a very quiet place. The second impression was it is a young place too. Regarding to all those students between 18 and 21 walking down the streets of the campus and downtown with the Hawkeye shirts.

I use to spend my day time reading or working in my room. Then go out for lunch with some friends from the fellow IWP writers. Then back to my room in Iowa House to continue work. In the evening i like to go to listen to some live music in THE MILL or SANCTUARY. If not, just couple of beers in GEORGES. I also enjoyed the trips to New Orleans, and Chicago where we hear more of authentic jazz. And the trips to NY an Washington DC with their great museums and night life.


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Hisham, Alexandria, Egypt: Do you teach creative writing in Egypt? Is there anything like this in our country? Where exactly?

Yasser Abdel-Latif: Well, I do not teach creative writing as they do in Iowa university. but i Lead two seasons of creative writing workshop in Kotobkham Bookshop in Maadi-Cairo. the first one 2007-2008 was about what we can call "auto fiction" like memoires and blogs and diaries and how to transform it into creative fiction. The second season was under the title of "your first novel" 2008-2009. you can check the talk that i gave i Iowa City public library about this experience in this link: http://iwp.uiowa.edu/news/event-docs/2009/ABDELLATIF_Yasser_ICPL_teaching.pdf
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Elizabeth, Iowa City: Hi Yasser, what is your writing process? And how do you compose poetry -- do you write a piece in one sitting, or pull together notes and ideas into poems over time?

Yasser Abdel-Latif: Hi Elizabeth,
The writing process is different between poetry and what you call in America "fiction". For the fiction, I work long time in my mind before start writing, and it is always on nonlinear basis. I compose the fragments in my mind, then start to type them down on my pc and in the end the "montage" stage to arrange the sequences in their right positions. And finally, the editing.

For the poems, I often write it in one shot. It is like a glimpse or a day dream. But for the long poems, I use the same method for the fiction, but with more complications.
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Natasa, Iowa City: Among the contemporary Arabic writers, whose work do you look forward to and read with the greatest interest? And do you, as a reader, think differently about what comes out of the "western" Arabic (Maghrebi) and "eastern" Arabic (Beuruti, Syrian, Saudi, etc) writing?

Yasser Abdel-Latif: In Egypt I prefer the work of Mohamed Makhzangi who is one of the best short story writers in the arabic world. From Lebanon I like the work of the novelist Hassan Dawood and the poet Wadie Saada. From my generation there are such names like Haytham Wardani, Ahmad Yamani, and Mustafa Zekri. I think the Arabic litrarry scene is lead by Egyptian and Lebanese writers; as the journalists use to say that the fiction is from Egypt and the poetry is from Lebanon. But also we have a very strong literary movement in the diaspora. Exiled writers and poets from Iraq and Lebanon and Morocco and from Egypt in Europe or America and even in some countries in the far East. I use to like the prose poetry from an Iraqi poet living in filipinas called Salah Fayeq.

Talking about difference between the east and the west of the Arabic world. There is really a difference in terms of using and dominating the Arabic language between the two regions. And this is very clear in the translations, some times I find it hard to understand book translated into Arabic in Morocco or Tunisia. On the creation level I don't feel this difficulty. They have a strong poetry movement in morocco but I hardly know about literature in Tunisia or Algeria.


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Fedosy, Caracas, Venezuela: Do you think your novel Legacies of Cairo, also can be considered a book of stories?

Yasser Abdel-Latif: It is a very good question my friend Fedosy. The structure of this novel is built on the relation between four different moments in the life of three generations from the same family. Those moments are linked together and separate in the same time. It is a "broken novel" as you told me one of these afternoon in Iowa city while we were walking down the hill to have lunch. May be this broken or sparkling structure that make this novel "unique" if I can say that.

But I do believe that a collection of short stories must be more variable than this book on the level of subject at least. Here you have the unity of the protagonist, the space and the main story seen in a broken mirror.


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Ashur Etwebi Tripoli, Libya: How do you see the present poetry scene in Egypt? And how could you explain the fierce attack on prose poetry by Ahmed AbdilMoeti Hijazi in his recently published book?

Yasser Abdel-Latif: Well, It is nice to talk to a writer from the neighbor Libya. From my point of view, the prose poetry is leading the real poetry scene in Egypt. And all those attacks are coming from the retro voices of the past like the former poet now governmental journalist Hijazi. Prose poems are in the front lines of the publishing houses that still publishing poetry, and in the cultural supplements of the news papers and magazines.

Hijazi is still fighting for his faded glory of the years 1950 from the 20th century.


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