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Saudi poet and literary editor Ahmed Al-Ali talks about his career ahead of Emirates Literature Fest 2023
DUBAI: Saudi poet, translator and literary editor Ahmed Al-Ali has worn many hats throughout his career, but the Dubai-based writer – who will be speaking on a panel at the upcoming Emirates Airline Festival of Literature – started out as a software developer.
“I wasn’t content being a software developer who didn’t have time to read books except before bed. “There are people who read all day and get paid for it,” I said to myself. By that time I was familiar with the literary scene in the Arab world, had written two collections of poetry, translated three titles into Arabic, published my articles in newspapers and edited many books. I taught myself everything I needed to do,” he told Arab News.
“Then in 2012, I quit my job, applied for a scholarship, and flew to New York City, not knowing I was going to study publishing. I just went there to be in the center of the world and have a chance to make something of my life.”
Al-Ali – along with children’s book publisher and author Amal Farah and poet and author Qasim Saudi – will be speaking on the ‘How to Market Your Book’ panel at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on February 3 at 4pm on the subject would it be fair to assume that Al-Ali would advocate that authors stick to writing and write well and nothing else.
When asked if authors should really be concerned about the marketing side of the publishing business, Al-Ali said, “Book marketing is the tool that booksellers and bookstores use to sell the ‘products’ they offer, which is not the job of Both publishers are still the authors. Publishers should market and brand their authors. Why do you think a planner with quotes from Margaret Atwood would sell more than some of her titles? Authors need to know that they can and should only write good books and take care of their public image.”
Al-Ali currently works as Editor-in-Chief at Sharjah’s Kalimat Group and her fiction imprint and is responsible for bringing the Arab world to international authors such as James Baldwin, Raymond Carver, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood, John Ashbery, Ali Smith, Michael Ondaatje , John Banville and Claire Messud.
He has also personally translated several English novels. “Paul Auster’s The Invention of Loneliness is so close to my heart because I discovered NYC in real life and also through this author’s literature,” he said when asked to pick a favorite.
But what Al-Ali is arguably best known for is his poetry collections. According to Al-Ali, poetry is the medium best suited to seek “the truth” about the world.
“In each of my books I have tried to explore a theme. My book Facing Skype is about having an avatar on social media versus your real person in real social life. The Drifter’s Guide to NYC is about the city’s known and hidden gems, written in prose poems. ‘Lavender, Hotel California’ claims that this life is a ‘hotel’ and tests this claim with various poems,” Al-Ali said.
The author’s current work-in-progress, a project on oil exploration in the region, is “a work of poetry, research, translation and adaptation; it embodies everything I can do.”
But unsurprisingly, in Al-Ali the poet is jaded to the current state of the literary world.
“My generation and the younger ones are caught in the web of competitions and awards; they seek nothing real. If you don’t realize that there is tremendous effort to program people and that we are in a matrix and you need to break through, then what do you know as a poet?” he said.