Author says he juggles multiple cultures in his writing
Posted September 26, 2012 at 12:04 am in News
On Wednesday afternoon, students and faculty members gathered in Taper Hall to hear Professor Anouar Benmalek speak about his identity as an Arab writer.
In a presentation titled ‚ÄúFrom the birth announcement to the obituary: Writing as a ticket for a strange journey,‚ÄĚ Benmalek, a professor of probability and statistics at the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Paris-Sud, discussed his experiences as a poet, journalist and writer.
Benmalek focused on his struggle to define himself amid multiple identity markers. Born in Algeria to an Algerian Nationalist father and an American mother, Benmalek also had a Swiss grandmother, African grandmother, Bavarian great-grandmother and Mauritanian great-grandmother. His heritage forced Benmalek to learn how to reconcile Western and Eastern, as well as Islamic and Christian, cultures.
‚Äú‚ÄėTo be or not to be an Arab,‚Äô Hamlet of Algeria would ask himself,‚ÄĚ said Benmalek, who struggled with his Arab identity after his books were published.
His novel Oh Maria, a love story set after the fall of Moorish Grenada, was denounced as sacrilegious by Muslims, who proceeded to threaten his life to the point that he left his home on the suggestion of French security.
Originally just a mathematician, Benmalek ‚Äúfell in love with a girl and had no way to seduce her as a mathematician,‚ÄĚ so he began writing poetry. He has now published eight novels, three of which have been translated into English, and countless short stories.
Benmalek, who was born during the Algerian War of Independence, spent his early life dedicated to fighting for democracy in his homeland. In 1989, Benmalek helped found the Algerian Committee Against Torture, an organization through which he co-edited the October Blackbook, based on the testimony of more than 250 civilians tortured by the state.
Though he now permanently resides in France, Benmalek continues to question Arabs‚Äô attitude towards human rights.
‚ÄúFor me the most terrible [thing] is the observation that in the Arab world, the aspiration to a democratic land is not yet a natural reflex,‚ÄĚ he said.
The speech was organized by Olivia Harrison, a professor of Mediterranean studies in the Department of French and Italian at USC. She worked with Sheila Walker of the Intercollegiate Department of Africana Studies to have Benmalek, who has been visiting college campuses across the United States, come to USC.
Harrison said she was originally ‚Äúdelighted at the opportunity to be able to invite him,‚ÄĚ but it wasn‚Äôt until later that she ‚Äúdiscovered his novels, which are beautifully written and they‚Äôre real page turners.‚ÄĚ
Some students, like freshman pyschology major Caroline Cannan, applauded Benmalek‚Äôs bravery in speaking out.
‚ÄúIt was interesting how comfortable he was talking about such difficult experiences that he‚Äôs been through, and how he‚Äôs really grown from them,‚ÄĚ Cannan said.
Undecided freshman Jack Koppa also said he enjoyed attending the event.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs an opportunity that USC has that I think is important to take advantage of,‚ÄĚ Koppa said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a cooler thing to spend time on than homework.‚ÄĚ