October 27, 2005

Recognition richly deserved.

Big congratulations go out to Riverbend of Baghdad Burning, who has just been awarded the third prize in this year's Lettre Ulysse competition for literary reportage. The award was for her book Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq, which is a collection of posts from the blog she's been keeping since shortly after the US-led invasion of Iraq. Baghdad Burning

You may have been as puzzled as we were by the fact that the award was for reportage. We'd never heard the term before, and had to read a bit in the Lettre Ulysse website to see exactly what sort of animal was being recognized. Reportage, it seems, occupies a mid-ground between journalism and literature:

The Art of Reportage has a long and distinguished tradition and may be counted among the most fascinating journalistic and literary forms. It is based upon personal experience, perception, and anecdotal evidence, representing a combination of the best of journalism and of creative nonfiction. Outstanding works in this genre have an effect far beyond the situation from which they arose, achieving importance as works of literature....

Reportage writers, with their immersion in the subject, bring unknown, hidden or forgotten realities and intricacies to light. By witnessing with their own eyes and collecting and consolidating a mass of information, in forming a picture of the whole, the reportage writer can deliver a greater degree of accuracy than is generally possible with other media formats. This is what gives reportage writing its significance and authority.

All of that describes what Riverbend has been doing, and then some. Her work at Baghdad Burning combines a shrewd analysis of current events in Iraq with an eye for the details of what 'normal' life has been like for Baghdadis since the invasion. When something happens in Iraq, we always look first to Riverbend to see if she's posted about it yet.

As to the particulars of the award Riverbend has received, here's the official announcment:

The third prize of 20,000 Euro went to:

* Riverbend (Iraq): Baghdad Burning. Girl Blog from Iraq, The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, New York, 2005. Published in the UK by Marion Boyars Publishers, London, 2005. Riverbend, a young Iraqi woman, writes an Internet diary, using a pseudonym. Her commanding gift for observation, her intelligence and her extraordinary language skills make her account of the life of a normal Iraqi family, which has also been published in book form as Baghdad Burning, one of the most uniquely critical documents of life in this abused country under the conditions of the war and the US military occupation.

It always gives us pleasure to see that someone's hard work is rewarded. This is particularly true with this award to Riverbend.

More: We thought we'd posted about Riverbend's book before, and an archive search turned up this post at Magpie. That post links to a long interview that Riverbend did with Buzzflash last April when the the book was released. Here's an excerpt:

BuzzFlash: You are obviously a secular Iraqi, with great skills of observation in writing in English. You are also an independent, thinking young woman. Do you have fears of a fundamentalist Islamic takeover of the Iraqi government?

Riverbend: I have fears of fundamentalism of any type. I fear Sunni fundamentalism and Shia fundamentalism. I fear we might be slowly working our way towards a state run by Mullahs and clerics. I fear Iraq being turned into another Iran by parties like Da'awa and SCIRI, currently being promoted by the occupation powers. It is not Islam that I fear — I am a Muslim and a practicing one — it is the deformation of Islam practiced in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia that I fear. [...]

BuzzFlash: In your journal, you talk about what a restless sleeper you are, amidst the uncertainty and the noises of war. Have you ever dreamt of peace and normalcy returning to your life?

Riverbend: Peace and normalcy seem like a distant thing. One begins to forget what 'normal' was in the first place. We've come to realize that peace and normalcy are also relative. What we consider peace is obviously very different from the American concept of peace. Normality also changes with time. Three years ago, normal was being able to walk down the street with a sense of security. Today, normal is hearing at least three explosions a day and the hum of helicopters above.

At the end of the day, why dream of such mundane things as peace and normalcy? A stable, secure, prosperous, united and above all independent Iraq — that's a dream.

Posted by Magpie at October 27, 2005 03:49 PM | Iraq | Technorati links |

Why do I get the sense that "Riverbend" is an American DailyKos reading grad student? Does "she" resemble American leftists or do American leftists resemble Baathists? Tough call.

Posted by: ss at October 31, 2005 06:03 PM