Soueif: Public Persona

Maggie Morgan reports for Al-Ahram Weekly on a recent talk given by Ahdaf Soueif at the American University in Cairo:

Ferial Ghazoul, professor of English and Comparative Literature at AUC, introduced the speaker as “an in-betweener, a hyphenated persona”. Years ago, Ghazoul introduced her students to Aisha, Soueif’s collection of short stories, and even back then spoke of her as an Egyptian writing “in English, as opposed to writing an English” novel. Later, as students, we crammed into a small room to hear Soueif talk about her first novel, In the Eye of the Sun. She signed our books in what must have been a thoroughly pre-pondered, Arabic-English signature. Soueif’s public identity even then was a careful construct — an Anglophone Arab, talking about “us, here” but being published “there”. Last year she published Mezzaterra : Fragments From the Common Ground — a collection of political essays, articles, and book reviews — released to “mark time between novels”. In the introduction Soueif explains the title (and her self-chosen niche) as, “this territory, this ground, valued precisely for being a meeting-point for many cultures and traditions — let’s call it ‘Mezzaterra’. This common ground, after all, is the only home that I and those whom I love can inhabit.”

Morgan was struck by how the Anglo-Egyptian novelist, short story writer and essayist has crossed over into activism, and how this new identity affects the way in which she frames her discourse. Interesting stuff.