Libya Culture and Literature

By | September 12, 2021


According to getzipcodes, Libya perfectly represents the meeting point between the Sahara and the Mediterranean: along its coasts there are extraordinary Greek and Roman cities and the remains of ancient Byzantine splendors; in the interior, however, the desert occupies 90% of the entire territory. In theory, in Libyan society, women have the same rights as men, despite the Muslim religion; in reality, many women lead rather withdrawn lives and few occupy positions of responsibility at work. In 1982, three world heritage cities were established by UNESCO: they are the ancient ruins of Cyrene, Leptis Magna and Sabratha. Later, the area with the rock paintings of the site of Tadrart Acacus (1985), and the picturesque ancient city of Ghadāmis (1986) also entered the list, which in October, on the occasion of the Ghadāmis Festival, it comes back to life in a riot of color and activity. The Acacus festival, on the other hand, held between December and January, features a spectacular concert held at sunset, enriched by Tuareg dances and traditional ceremonies. As in other Mediterranean African countries, Libya’s typical dish is couscous, which accompanies fish or meat, for example lamb; it is replaced by rice in Cyrenaica. Macaroni, the result of Italy’s colonial past, are the basis of some dishes, while rishta is a kind of long pasta (like tagliatelle) topped with chickpeas, onion and spicy sauce.


We can conventionally speak of a Libyan Arab literature only for the period following independence: the previous period is part of the general Arab literature. However, Sulaymān al-Bārūnī (d.1940) cannot fail to be remembered as one of the fathers of Libyan national literature, author of numerous political poems composed in the years of the Italo-Libyan war in pure classical Arabic and according to traditional metric structures but rich in I live love of country. Alongside him, Muṣṭafà ibn Zikrī (d.1918) and Rafīq al-Mahdawī can still be remembered. Libyan poetry counts among its exponents’ Alī Muṣṭafà al-Misrātī (b.1926), director of the prestigious literary magazine Hunā Tarābulus al-Garb and Kāmil Ḥasan al-Maqhūr (b. 1935). Both are authors of lyrics that deal with themes inspired by the historical transformations experienced by the country and aspects of daily life, but they are also known for their narrative production. However, the literary expression that emerged in the last years of the twentieth century. in Libya it is fiction, which has been able to capture and translate the changes in the country’s social reality into novels and short stories. Among the authors of short stories we remember the aforementioned Kāmil Ḥasan al-Maqhūr, Bašīr al-Hašimi (b. 1936); Ṣādiq al-Nayhūm (1936-1994); Yūsuf al-Quwayrī (b. 1938); Yūsuf al-āarīf (b.1938) awarded for the collection al-Aqdām al-‘āriya (1978; Barefoot); ‘Abd Allāh al-Quwayrī (b. 1940), author of essays and plays; Aḥmad Naṣr (b. 1941); Aḥmad Ibrāhīm al-Faqīh (b. 1942), who has published numerous collections, including Iḥtafat al-nuğūm, fa-ayna anti? (1981; The stars have disappeared, and where are you?), Al-Baḥr lā mā ‘fīhī (1981; The sea without water), Imra’at min ḍaw’ (1986; A woman of light), and the novel Ḥuqūl min al-ramād (1985; Ash fields); Riḍwān Abū āuwayšah (b. 1945); Ḥalīfah Ḥusayn Muṣṭafà (b.1944), who wrote the collection Ḥarīṭat al-aḥlām al-sa’īdah (1981; Map of happy dreams) and also published novels including araḥ al-wardah (1984; The wound of the rose), Min hikāyāt al-ğunūn al-a’ādī (1985; Stories of ordinary madness) and children’s stories; Muḥammad al-Misallātī (b. 1949) who publishes the collection Hawātir li ‘l-ḥubb (1981; Dangers for love). Among the writers we remember Mardiyyah al-Na’ās (b.1949) who made novels and short stories on the role of women in Libyan society, including the novel āay ‘min al-dif’ (1972; A bit of heat) and the Ġazālah collection (1976; The Gazelle); Luṭfiyyah al-Qabā’ilī (b. 1945), who published the collection Amānī mu’allabah (1977; My hopes in a box); and finally Fawziyyah al-āalābī, who wrote the collections of poems Fī ‘lqaṣīdah al-tāliyah uḥibbuk bi-ṣu’ūbah (1985; In the following poem I love you with difficulty), Bi ‘l-banafsağ anta muttaham (1985; The viola accuses you), the novel Rağul li-riwāyat wāḥidah (1985; A man for a single novel).

The best known exponent of Libyan literature is today Ibrāhīm al-Kūnī (b. 1948). The characters of his works are the nomads of the southern part of the country, where al-Kūnī was born, who live against the backdrop of a merciless desert, which traces human destinies and becomes the true protagonist. His writings evoke distant times and represent the conflict of the Arab nations between their historical, social, spiritual past and modernity. al-Kūnī is the author of the al-Qafas short story collections. (1990; The cage), Dīwān al-naṭr al-barrī (1991; The desert prose songbook), al-Waqā’i ‘al-mafqūdah min sīrah al-mağūs (1992; The lost accounts of pagan history), Harīf-al-darwīš (1994; The autumn of the dervish) and the novels al-Tibr (1990; Gold), al-Mağūs (1991; The pagans), al-Saharah (1994-95; The magicians), Fitnat al-zu’ān (1995; The charm of the weeds). The passion for literature also involved Mu’ammar Qaddāfi, who wrote some short stories and the collection of short stories al-Qaryah al-qaryah, al-ard al-ard (1993; The village and the land). As for the theater, the playwrights al-Mahdī Abū Qurayn, ‘Abd al-Karīm al-Dannā, Muhammad’ Abd al Ğalīl Qunaydī stand out, staging works of social inspiration. Lutfiyyah al-Qaba’ili, Fawziyyah Shalabi and Sharifah al-Qiyadi, not to mention writers such as al-Sadiq al-Nayhum, Ahmad Ibrahim al-Faqih, Kamil Maqhur and Khalifa Tikbali. Among the most interesting voices in this early 21st century is Isham Matar (b. 1970), born in New York but of Libyan origins; his debut novel, entitled In the Country of Men (2006), translated into 22 languages ​​and internationally awarded, tells the life of a 9-year-old boy in Tripoli, whose father is accused by Gaddafi’s police of being engaged in subversive activities.

Libya Culture