By Olivia Snaije
Yesterday, it was announced that Dar Merit founder and director of Mohamed Hashem will receive German PEN’s Hermann Kesten prize this November. The independent Egyptian publishing house was created in 1998. It publishes non-fiction and fiction, primarily by Egyptian authors but also by writers from Palestine, Libya, Iraq and Sudan. Since it was founded, Dar Merit’s motto has been to publish works that embody freedom of thought and expression; it also encourages and helps new writers. In 2006 Hashem was awarded the Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award by the Association of American Publishers’ International Freedom to Publish (IFTP).
“The revolution is not over,” said Hashem. “People are not sitting still and reading, in Egypt we are focusing on freedom rather than production and selling. It’s not about the money we make but the ideas we sell. These days a book that doesn’t speak about freedom is worthless.”
Dar Merit is part of the Book Fair’s Invitation Program which gives small publishers a free stand, covers travel expenses and provides them with the opportunity to meet speakers from the industry on topics including international sales, marketing, rights and licenses, and book design.
Hashem said his company publishes 50-60 books annually but that this year because of the Arab Spring he was not able to read all the books he published and relied on his editors and put his trust in his writers. He pointed out that the work of one of his authors, Mona Prince (AUC press most recently published the English-language version of her novel So You May See), is very different before and after the revolution. Dar Merit is about to publish her new novel. Dar Merit recently published one of Hachem’s favorite novels called All My Shoes Are Too Small, by a Christian called Adel Asaad Al Miri.
“He talks about his feelings about the nation and his relationship to Egypt.”
Another recent Dar Merit title that Hashem said would be interesting to foreign publishers focuses on the religious dialogue in Egypt and its connection to the State, by Nabil Abdel Fatah.
The PEN prize “honors everyone who died on the streets and everyone who has seen the name of Dar Merit ripped apart,” said Hachem, tears in his eyes, referring to when unofficial government gangs physically ejected Dar Merit from the Cairo Book Fair in 2006.
“You just have to keep working and one day you get recognition for what you do,” he added.