4 February 2018

Sudan: Interview With Novelist Ann El-Safi


Critics believe that the Sudanese novelist Ann al-Safi is a postmodernist writer, as she tries to propose a special project in writing that combines the reality, the odd and the scientific so that she can offer a futurist writing. In her dialogues, she always maintains that if writers do not write for present generations and future generations, then for whom should they write? In addition to writing the novel, she writes short stories and poetry and has writings on intellectual issues. She has published several novels in Arabic, "Arc of Temptation", "Tawali", "The Caravan of the Narrator", "It is Him" and "Nadond" which is a novel for the youth. She also published a two-part work entitled "Writing for the Future" in which she discusses writing as ideas and project, in addition to dozens of scientific papers and intellectual lectures. She participated to many literary and cultural events, and recently to the "International Forum for Women Leadership and Creativity" organized in the city of "Laayoun" in the Kingdom of Morocco. "Sudanow" met her in a dialogue on several issues:

Q: Can you give us your opinion about the current cultural scene in Sudan and in the Arab World?

A: According to me, our cultural scene could be resumed by a poem of the late great poet Ahmed Shawqi:

There are people who run in life for a goal *** while others, misled, run without any rein

Hence, some are aware of the importance of all aspects of culture in our lives and doing their very best to highlight it to people by encouraging curricula in schools and through formal institutions, as well as encouraging and supporting writers and artists of all kinds. Civilisations last only by means of their culture and art. We have to create also a solid base for support of the artists, giving value to all original works as we are witnessing a revolution in technology that has certainly altered beliefs. Soft power become the name of the game that in turn would help us improve to the best, we have to believe that change to the best is possible by means of soft power and very beneficial to arts and culture as well the degree of civilization of every society is observed by what we present at our cinemas, theatres, television, media of all types, and all cultural activities.

Our leadership should direct us all towards knowledge making and if they ignore it our societies will head towards destruction.

Q: You write novels for adults and children, as well as intellectual works and poetry. What is the link between artistic and intellectual writing?

A: For me, the cycle of artistic creation is composed of a writer, a text, and a reader who is the last user. That's how I express my ideas accordingly. My intellectual book series 'Writing for the Future" is the intellectual project I'm working on. I chose this title as I believe we live in an era that should be reflected in our writings, by tracing all change in human life as we can't keep on repeating the same old ideas, as the younger generations would lose interest in reading. The younger generations (those under 25 years) represent more than 70% of our populations; we have to address our societal problems, as well as youth problems. We need to be objective in order to find the best way ahead.

Q: As you live in the UAE, has this affected your career as a writer?

A: Yes indeed it affected me and my writing as well as any other country I passed by. UAE has been the longest, and as we live in cosmopolitan cities it had certainly an impact on me and my writings as well as my family entourage who helped me preserve my home roots and links with my home country Sudan. This has helped me make the balance between all the confluences of cultures. My presence in UAE has allowed me to explore other's experiences in writing as well as the interaction with other cultures; especially that UAE offers platforms for interaction between experiences and among different cultures.

Q: You recently participated to the International Forum for Women Leadership and Creativity in Morocco, what is the reason behind focusing on the role of women and can women writers add to the cultural scene both in Africa and in the Arab World?

A: The organisation of this forum is recognition of the advanced and increasing role played by women in our societies. The role of women in African societies is increasing due to the challenges our societies face and that impose an advanced interactive role between elites of different African societies and this would help in solving our problems.

Q: Critics mentioned that you write in post-modernist style, what can you say about this?

A: Some categorizes my writings as post-modernist and others as post post-modernist. I am grateful to all of them. Any analysis or interpretation of my texts adds values to them. As for me, I work hard to come up with new ideas reading from past experiences and modern in various fields of sciences and humanities and trying hard to present new ideas suitable to our era. I use scientific imagination ideas for example in one of my novels "Arc of Temptation".

Q: Science fiction has always been part of your novels. Are you trying to establish a Sudanese science fiction line of narration?

A: As we are on the 3rd millennium, technology has allowed exploring others' experiences while trying to learn from them even though our countries are classified as third world or under developed countries this will open many doors for the narrative and novel writing. Elsewhere narratives are divided into many lines, such as social, historical, philosophical, etc, as well as science fiction, but in our corner of the world we are yet far from this. From what I see for example, I can use a scientific idea for my narrative no matter whether it proved real or unreal. Using scientific ideas into narrative writing does not harm, it adds more ideas and imagination. In my novel "Arc of Temptation" I used ideas from Newton laws of the masses as well as Einstein's theory of relativity in another novel.

Q: Why do you mix between fantasia and science fiction? Do you think that the reader would accept it easily as we are used to classic writing?

A: I don't see any restriction here as long as I write what I believe in. When I write I think of the readers in our region and who are mainly young. This young population is looking for something different that would open their minds on more imagination as they are more open to other cultures now, they are no more interested in old style writings and narratives, so we need to open up in order to attract them to read and in turn they will come up with new ideas.

Q: Writing for the youth has spread out and defined its own characteristics; can we call this kind of writing "Narration for the youth between teenagers and adulthood" as you did in your novel "Nadond"?

A: I see no limits; the doors are open to all writers to explore this line or any other one. The most important is that we have to address issues that concern them, we have to encourage them as well by organizing prizes and competitions etc.

My second novel "Nadond" is for the younger generations as well. It mainly speaks about a group of friends who defied handicap and have been able to achieve their dreams. My other novel "Akinosh", destined to the young as well, is about to be published. It mainly talks about the concept of leadership, personality building, and responsibility holding, as the young are meant to be our assets for the future.

Q: Your novel "Arc of Temptation" is the most popular among your novels, why haven't your other novels reached such popularity?

A: As my publishers are based in the Middle East and have problems dealing with the Sudanese market, we are looking for a way to facilitate this in the near future.

Q: Usually, writings that do not precise place/space have problem getting through, how does Ann precise her space?

A: In his writings, Gabriel García Márquez for example did not define the space, but the readers accepted it, even his fictional names were given to real places later. These assumptions no more hold in our nowadays world, as in our phone screen we can reach out the whole world.


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