Art, Movies, Lit, Theater

British Novelist to Explore Arab Life at Reading

Posted by tbaker |

By Ben S. Pollock

Conway is only the latest stop for the peripatetic Englishman Garry Craig Powell, but he has been teaching creative writing at the University of Central Arkansas since 2004. He walks the talk, too — his novel Stoning the Devil was released in August by the British publisher Skylight Press.

Powell will headline the program of the Ozark Poets & Writers Collective (ozarkwriters.wordpress.com) at Fayetteville’s Nightbird Books at 7 p.m., Oct. 30.

This is the UCA associate professor’s second OPWC appearance. He plans to focus on the Arabian Peninsula where he’s lived.

Specifically, Powell taught eight years at the women’s campus of the national university of the United Arab Emirates.

Powell said his experiences in the UAE led to his “novel-in-stories” Stoning the Devil.

Here is how the publisher summarizes the book:

“Colin, a professor of literature, is not the ‘typical’ expat, ignorant and interested only in pleasure and his stock portfolio, but a speaker of Arabic and an admirer of Arab culture — or is he? To his Arab wife, he is an Orientalist who ‘exoticizes’ and patronizes the locals, unaware of his latent racism. Powell presents a complex and contradictory set of Arab characters, who are a far cry from fundamentalist stereotypes. He also gives women in the Gulf a voice — as none are completely submissive.”

What also may set Powell’s book apart is its eroticism. Stoning the Devil is explicit — unexpected given the region.

He told Little Rock writer Cara Brookins in an interview: “[Sex is] a reliable barometer of the power dynamics in a relationship. In a region where, on the whole, women are oppressed and repressed, it’s inevitable that men take advantage of them. And I tried to show that that isn’t only true of the Arabs.”

Because Powell is raising personal relationships to metaphor, I asked him how he sees the Arab Spring of recent years, which has ranged from Egypt to, now, Syria.

“To a significant degree, the Arab Spring is the result of better education for women, coupled with instant access to social media and communications. Women played a vital part in organizing the uprisings. In the Gulf I saw that women’s lives were changing, and that many women were nothing like the stereotypes in the western media — I mean, they were not all submissive, passive victims,” Powell said from Conway.

“Even though it’s a highly patriarchal society, women are fighting for their rights. That’s one of the chief themes of Stoning the Devil. I look at it mainly from the angle of sexual politics, but it’s all related,” he said.

The collective’s evening at Nightbird Books, 205 W. Dickson St. in Fayetteville, begins and ends with an “open mic,” where audience members can give up to four-minute readings. Powell will autograph copies of his book, which will be available for sale at the bookshop. While the collective is family-friendly, spoken-word performances can have adult themes.

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