Sudanese poet and essayist Amr Muneer Dahab’s cry against the dominance of the novel as a writing genre
BY LOU SIFA
In a series of forty-five short essays that constitute his latest book with the English translation titled “Damn the Novel: When a Privileged Genre Prevails Over All Forms of Creative Writing,” Sudanese Canadian poet and essayist Amr Muneer Dahab denounces the privilege granted to the novel, the literary genre that is treated by publishers—and viewed by the public—as superior to all others and is virtually guaranteed marketability and profitability, to the detriment of others.
In this volume of 160 pages published by AuthorHouse in Indiana, U.S.A. which received a warm review from several people, including Jim Cox, editor of the Midwest Book Review, Dahab writes:
“[T]he value and the pleasure of any artistic or literary genre do come from their unique distinctiveness, not from taking all the light on the stage through pushing the other arts to the dark corners.”
Though the book focuses on the Arabic literature, it takes a larger view on the matter. For the most part, the essays are standalone pieces that include the following:
- Anyone Can Write a Novel
- The Novel and Sex
- The Invention of Lying
- Novelists Believed Their Own Woven Lie(s)!
- Novelists are Cowards!
- Which One Is Hard to Write, Novel or Essay?
- No Market for the Short Story
- Writing and Lobbies
- Not Every Interesting Book Is Necessarily a Novel
The initiative is provocative, by Dahab’s own admission. In an interview with Rupert Hawksley, a reviewer, the author says: “Everybody is taking it personally, they are offended, but if they read the book carefully, it is a very objective view.”
“Dahab is brave (but absolutely correct) to draw our attention to this worrying intersection of art and profit,” writes Rupert Hawksley, who thus supports the author’s statement that “It is simply against perpetuating the delusion that the novel is inevitably the most dominating and influential literary genre of the time.”
The impressive journey of an engineer turned essayist, literary critic and poet
In an exclusive interview with Dahab, The African learned first-hand about the journey of an articulate, well-spoken electrical engineer, essayist, literary critic and poet who is now poised to shake things in the world of creative writing.
Born and raised in Khartoum, Sudan where he received his primary and secondary education, Dahab completed high school in Kuwait, and graduated as an electrical engineer from the Mansoura University in Egypt. After traveling virtually the world over, he eventually settled in the United Arab Emirates to work in the field of electrical engineering. “My poetic talent emerged at high school, immediately after migrating to Kuwait with my family, as I was deeply missing my country and colleagues at an age where personal identity is typically formed,” Dahab tells The African. He says his poetic experience continued throughout the course of his education and was crowned with several awards at the level of the entire Egyptian universities.
Then came a migration from poetry to essay writing in the early nineties, thanks to his eldest brother Muhammad Muneer Dahab, then a writer and well-known journalist in Sudan (and also a civil engineer). The author recounts: “He insisted that I should adopt a writing career that is much closer to the readers at that time, asking me to write a weekly column for their newspaper along with my original passion: poetry.” But years later, says the author, “I broke up with poetry becoming a professional essayist.”
Dahab has penned more than twenty books in Arabic. Damn the Novel is the first one translated into English. Some of the books titles are: No compulsion in Revolution; O Writers Be Humble; Your Bedroom in Globalization; Arab Genes, and O Old Man. [Click here to see more titles and detailed description.]
The African component in Sudanese culture
In addition to its universal appeal, Dahab’s work is also intrinsically the cry of a writer originally from the culturally-rich continent of Africa. In his interview with The African, the writer concedes that “Sudanese character, in general, is ethically and morally influenced by the Arab and Islamic values, which had been affecting Sudanese for centuries.” He however points to several features of Sudanese culture and society that he feels one should not overlook, including the fact that not all regions of Sudan speak Arabic as a mother tongue. Secondly, the African body and facial features for all Sudanese can never be ignored. Moreover, he stresses, these features, if observed calmly, would categorize Sudanese as African more than being Arab. Finally, says the writer, major parts of the Sudanese culture and spiritual beliefs are highly influenced by the African component at the expense of the Arab component (singing style, the pentatonic musical scale against the Arabic sevenfold musical scale, folktales, popular mythology, etc.)