Najwa Barakat’s Workshop ‘how to write a novel’, first of its kind in the Arab world, is being regularly covered by the press. This time, the workshop makes it as a headline on the main francophone Lebanese daily’s first page. No doubt, Barakat’s workshop is not going unnoticed. Barakat’s explicit aim is to discover young talents, help them find their own voice, and accompany them until their work is published. To some extent, Barakat is acting like a free-lance editor – with a pedagogical twist.
In a part of the world where fiction writing is not valued as much as it could, where literature and art strive to find their adequate place in society, it is not surprising that most Arab publishers, mostly for economic reasons, mainly act as enlightened book producers. Manuscripts that get to them are screened; good ones are selected, and then printed. Some publishers go through a work of copy editing, making sure that no spelling or grammar mistakes make their way to the reader. But no publisher, to this date, does a true work of editing.
Authors often complain of not getting any feedback on their books’ content and structure: Does the book succeed in creating its atmosphere? Does it maintain it? Does it follow its rhythm or is it unnecessarily lengthy in some parts? Does it fulfill its ambitions? Are all the characters credible? Does the author’s language naturally flow in all of the book’s parts? This is the kind of feedback that authors can hope for in other parts of the world, where editors sometimes interfere as far as suggesting a different ending to a story (I was once told by an American literary agent that such was the case of the world best selling book ‘The Kite runner’). While the extent at which editors can intervene in an author’s book is debatable, there is no doubt that their input and feedback are necessary, and contribute to a book’s literary quality.
In a way, Barakat’s initiative answers this lack of work on quality. In effect, Barakat is partly acting as an editor with a vision and a clear idea of her editorial line, actively participating in the creation of a literary work, and offering new opportunities for young talents. We can only hope that this initiative will be encouraged.