Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

Re-Formed Discourse: Awraq, Journal of the Syrian Writers' Association

Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

Re-Formed Discourse: Awraq, Journal of the Syrian Writers' Association

Article excerpt

Since the beginning of the uprisings in Syria in March 2011, there has been no shortage of cultural productions from practitioners living both inside and outside Syria whose works process and imagine the revolution. Regardless of whether they are amateurs or seasoned practitioners, the volatile environments of revolution and war have emboldened and inspired them. (1) That there has been such a steady output may attest to the paradox of being a Syrian cultural producer in the twenty-first century: The institutions of culture in Syria both educated and supported artists while keeping a tight grip on their output. So, when both individual fears and public statues were destroyed as demonstrations raged on, many artists armed with the tools of their trade put their practice in the service of revolution. They thus constructed a nascent cultural sector that would converse with a grammar much unlike their predecessors'.

Within this context the (new) Syrian Writers' Association (Rabitat al-Kuttab al-Suriyyln, SWA) was formed in the winter of 2012 in London, and launched its website (http://syrianwa.com/). One year later, it published the inaugural issue of its journal Awraq (literally: Papers) both online and in print, an edition of almost 400 pages that would announce the SWA's existence, program, and position vis-a-vis the revolution taking place in Syria. In the four-plus years since its founding, the SWA has continued to publish Awraq, typically bi-annually, and update the website with articles, members' news, and other information relevant to the running of an association (official statements, updating membership lists, by-laws, etc.). All of the issues of Awraq can be down! oaded for free in PDF format from the website, making the ideas published in them universally accessible.

It needs to be noted at the outset that the funding of the SWA has stirred a controversy that aired in the Arabic press. In an article titled "Rabitat al-Kuttab al-Suriyyin al-ahrar: Inni as'al" (The Free Syrians Writers' Association: I Question), the Syrian writer and SWA member Khalil al-Nu'aymi asks a simple question for which he, and others, would like a simple answer regarding "the source of funding for the Association, and its intent." To be truly an association of "free writers," this "accusation deserves a response" (n. pag.). In essence, al-Nu'aymi raises a very fundamental issue: Everything has a price, so what is the cost of this freedom? Furthermore, without a response, the questions and accusations will only become exacerbated. Funding for the SWA is derived from membership dues, according to Nuri al-Jarrah, poet and one of the founding members of the association. (2) In his article "La ahad yumawwil Rabitat al-Kuttab al-Suriyyin, wabayt maliha farigh" (No One Funds the Syrian Writers' Association, Its Coffer Is Empty), he responds to al-Nu'aymi's concern regarding the source of funding for the meeting held in Cairo September 16-17, 2012, where al-Nu'aymi was in attendance. Al-Jarrah explains that funding for hotel rooms and travel was provided from "the inside," i.e. Syrian supporters of the revolution. He identifies the Syrian real estate investor Walid al-Za'bi as the prime financial sponsor of the meeting logistics, in addition to (at the time of al-Jarrah's article) sponsoring the publication of the first issue of Awraq (n. pag.). Al-Za'bi is associated with the group Bunat al-mustaqbal (Builders of the Future), a Syrian opposition initiative that raises money to support the revolution in Syria; but it is his name alone that was attributed to sponsoring the Cairo meeting. Al-Jarrah also noted that neither al-Za'bi nor any other member of Bunat al-mustaqbal was present at the meeting, only members of the SWA. As will be noted in more detail below, funding for the first issue of Awraq and the granting of the literary prize al-Mazra'a for the novel entails additional sponsorship and collaboration, but as for the daily running of the association, this is based purely on membership fees and the individual initiatives of members. …

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