New to site?


Login

Lost password? (X)

Already have an account?


Signup

(X)

An Interview with Khaled AlKhamissi: A brief ‘Taxi’ Ride through the streets of Egypt

02
Feb 2017

An Interview with Khaled AlKhamissi: A brief ‘Taxi’ Ride through the streets of Egypt

Khaled Al Khamissi is an Egyptian novelist, columnist, lecturer, writer and cultural activist. He shot to fame with his insightful fiction novels Taxi and Noah’s Arch and his nonfiction novel 2011.  He is now the Chairman of the Cairo Greater Public Library.

  • Have you always known that you want to be a writer? Did something, in particular, encourage you to take up writing as a profession?

I come from a family of writers. My grandfather, uncles and friends of my family were writers. I was born in an apartment with no walls, only books! Literature, books and culture were ingrained in me from the beginning. It also had a bad impact on me! I kept thinking if I could write better than authors I grew up reading. The answer is always “no, you can’t.” I had the dream of writing when I was 15 and I was only published when I was 40. I began with Taxi (2006) which was politically motivated. I felt anger in the streets of Cairo and I wanted to pen this anger.

  • In the light of the political scenario in the Middle East, how far do you think your role as a writer is essential to voice the suppressed anger of the masses? Does it purge the society of malevolence?

I do not like the term “Middle” East; middle from whose perspective? I refuse to accept a colonial term. We must reinvent terminologies again to free ourselves. As a man of words, we must declare war against oppressive linguistic tendencies. Culture is important for critical thinking because we must critique the conditions we live in. To question is the answer! All ideas of the eighteenth century that now shape administration in schools and universities are inherently ‘westernised’ and are inadequate.

  • They say that the pen is mightier than the sword. Being a witness to the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, do you think your words have purged society of fear?

A very small percentage of people in this world read, who do not let the media shape their thinking. These are the ones who are capable of bringing about a change. We writers have a role to play, which are political and social in nature, never to be mistaken for a luxury. Those who write for a pastime do not deserve my respect and as a reader, I take the pen seriously.

  • Your first nonfiction book 2011 is deeply ingrained in the seeds of revolution back in Egypt itself, your involvement having been materialized in Doum. Do you believe that repulsion towards violence perpetrates the need for creation within you?

We are all influenced by what we see. Even if we read thousands of books on Russia in the 19th century, my favourite being Fyodor Dostoevsky, deeply imbibing the tenets of the society then, I know I shall never be able to write about it. I must write on something my body feels, touches and smells directly. We are shaped by the pains we witness, the oppression we face and the failure of political establishments. I cannot write on corruption in Nigeria if I have not lived there during times of distress.

  • Speaking of Dostoevsky, does a nihilist approach shape the way you perceive critical thinking?

Crime and Punishment happens to be a personal favourite! However, coming back, I would say again that concepts formulated even a hundred years ago are no longer relevant. The idea of nihilism was important to the social context then, not now. Can we defeat death? No? Progress in medicine says otherwise. With time, perceptions change.

  • Being the founder and president of the story-telling festival in Qena and the literary festival in Mansoura, how pertinent in today’s world do you think are literary festivals to bring about social change?

I think these festivals are extremely important because they are the link between different people with diverse cultural backgrounds. We need these bridges. Festivals centred around books can be the answer to all cultural troubles. If I need to promote any book or the literature of my country, these venues are all I shall look for.

Tannistha Sinha

Tannistha Sinha

Tannistha Sinha is a student of English Literature at Jadavpur University, currently studying in UG III. She takes an active part in a host of extracurricular activities, including debating, MUNing, music, theatre, creative writing and mountaineering. Apart from this, she is a voracious reader, an impulsive cook and a sitcom enthusiast, accompanied by an almost unbearable competitive attitude. At times when her weird spirituality subsides, she believes one lives to eat and never the vice versa.
Tannistha Sinha

Tannistha Sinha is a student of English Literature at Jadavpur University, currently studying in UG III. She takes an active part in a host of extracurricular activities, including debating, MUNing, music, theatre, creative writing and mountaineering. Apart from this, she is a voracious reader, an impulsive cook and a sitcom enthusiast, accompanied by an almost unbearable competitive attitude. At times when her weird spirituality subsides, she believes one lives to eat and never the vice versa.
Related Posts