In February 2016, Ahmed Naji was sentenced to two years in prison for “violating public decency,” after an excerpt of his novel Using Life reportedly caused a reader to experience heart palpitations. Naji ultimately served ten months of that sentence, in a group cellblock in Cairo’s Tora Prison. In this program, we welcome Ahmed to City of Asylum to share his latest work, Rotten Evidence, a memoir which chronicles those ten months.
Through Naji’s writing, the world of Egyptian prison comes into vivid focus, with its cigarette-based economy, homemade chess sets, and well-groomed fixers. Naji’s storytelling is lively and uncompromising, filled with rare insights into both the mundane and grand questions he confronts. How does one secure a steady supply of fresh vegetables without refrigeration? How does one write and revise a novel in a single notebook? Fight boredom? Build a clothes hanger? Negotiate with the chief of intelligence? And, most crucially, how does one make sense of a senseless oppression: finding oneself in prison for the act of writing fiction? Genuine and defiant, Rotten Evidence stands as a testament to the power of the creative mind, in the face of authoritarian censorship.
This reading is followed by an audience Q&A moderated by Abdelrahman ElGendy and a book signing. You can purchase your own copy of Ahmed’s book, Rotten Evidence, at City of Asylum Bookstore.
About the Author:
Ahmed Naji (he/him) is a writer, journalist, documentary filmmaker, and criminal. His novel Using Life (2014) made him the only writer in Egyptian history to have been sent to prison for offending public morality. He is also the author of the non-fiction memoir Rotten Evidence: Reading and Writing in an Egyptian Prison (2023) and the novels Tigers, Uninvited (2020) and Happy Endings (2022). Naji has won several prizes including a Dubai Press Club Award, a PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, and an Open Eye Award. He is currently a fellow at the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute. He lives in exile in Las Vegas, where his writing continues to delight and provoke.
About the Moderator:
Abdelrahman ElGendy (he/him) is an Egyptian writer and journalist based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was a six-year political prisoner in Egypt between 2013 and 2020. Abdelrahman’s writing is engaged with bearing witness and counter-narratives as a form of resistance to erasure and archival silences. His work appears in the Washington Post, Foreign Policy, New Lines Magazine, the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, Mada Masr, and elsewhere. He is a Dietrich fellow at the University of Pittsburgh’s Nonfiction Writing MFA, a Heinz fellow at Pitt’s Global Studies Center, a 2021 Logan Nonfiction fellow, and a finalist for the 2021 and 2023 Margolis Award for Social Justice Journalism.
About Your Visit:
The in-house restaurant 40 North is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but a cash wine bar will be available.
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