Literature Emerging Out of Conflict

Interview with Marie Virolle and Aïssa Khelladi

World Literature Today

July/August 2006 issue

 by Michael Toler

Though it sounds almost obscene to say that the violence tearing Algeria apart in the 1990s could be a source of inspiration or trigger for creative writing, in a certain sense it was. Once again, a generation of great writers would emerge out of conflict to create a powerful, evocative body of literature that alternately served as a primal screen denouncing terror and barbarism, a means of grappling and coming to terms with the situation, and a vehicle for imagining a better world. This was not only the case with literature but with other forms of art as well. For example, it was during this period that raï and other forms of Algerian popular music exploded onto the world stage. Perhaps one of the most productive incubators of this new literary talent was a tiny publishing house (an apartment, really) in Paris called Marsa Éditions and the cultural review it publishes: Algérie Littérature/Action. Two people, with a modest budget and a passionate commitment to the task, marked out a space to which writers and artists flocked to raise their voices in favor of a free and pluralistic Algeria. The efforts quickly attracted positive attention, and the publication has since become a journal of record for Algerian literature and art. Many of the artists they were first to publish have seen their work find its way into major publishing houses, and AL /A’s founders are now working to revitalize the Algerian literary scene back in Algeria. In this interview, the editor and director of the journal, Marie Virolle and Aïssa Khelladi, tell the story in their own words.

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