Host Mentor: Selma Hellal, CEO of Barzakh Editions

Please describe the details of your internship progress and accomplishments.

During this internship I had the opportunity to plan, organize, and conduct several literary events in various venues. I began my internship in March 2022 by leading a discussion with photographer Ammar Bouras and writer Adlene Meddi at the International Book Fair of Algiers. After evaluating this first event with my supervisor, we decided to continue putting two authors in dialogue—instead of featuring a single author. After two more events at the Book Fair (a presentation of Amal Bouchareb, and a roundtable on the historical novel), I organized an event in April at the Rhizome Art Gallery in Algiers entitled “Toward a Literary Avant-Garde” with authors Mustapha Benfodil and Hmida Ayachi. I was in charge of every aspect of this event: I contacted the participants, chose the space, contacted the host, organized the advertising, and ran the discussion. I was very happy with this event. Its content is part of a dissertation chapter I am working on, and I was able to gather fresh information and test my hypotheses during the discussion. Also, this event was quite original because it built bridges between two authors writing in different languages (French and Arabic), in a literary climate where Francophone and Arabaphone Algerian literature are often considered separate. It took place at a newly opened art gallery, and included artistic performances—readings and rap– by the authors. The feedback was very good and a high-quality video recording was posted online.

In May, I conducted a discussion between novelists Ameziane Ferhani and Samir Toumi at Blida University (west of Algiers). It was centered on the topic of literature and urban spaces, and allowed me to organize an event on a university campus—a very different enterprise than organizing in cultural spaces for a general audience. Finally, in June, I traveled to a literary festival in Boudjima (Kabylia, east of Algiers) to moderate a discussion between two authors and translators (Mohamed Sari and Brahim Tazaghart) about the use of languages in Algeria. It was a very rich discussion touching on the complex relationship between Arabic, French, and Berber in Algeria. Speakers talked about their personal trajectories as well as the broader question of the evolving linguistic politics in Algeria.

How were your goals met or not met? What skills did you acquire and how did this experience enhance your professional development?
This experience far exceeded my goals. I was able to experiment with some of the arguments in my dissertation in dialogue with the writers in my corpus. The internship allowed for rich discussions with critics, cultural actors, and readers. It was an excellent occasion to enrich the solitary activity of dissertation writing and open it to new resonances, material, and nuances. I learned a lot about event organization thanks to the confidence of my supervisor, Selma Hellal, and the independence she gave me. Adaptation is certainly the most important skill I acquired. I learned that conducting a live event is very different from developing an argument in a paper. I learned to improvise and adapt my plan to different contexts and remain open to what might develop in the moment.

What were the biggest challenges and learning opportunities of the fellowship?
As I said, the circumstances were sometimes very different from what we had planned. Whether it was technical challenges with microphones, a missing participant, a traffic jam preventing participants or hosts from arriving on time… I learned to face all kinds of unexpected situations. I aimed to provide the best version of the planned event. Moreover, I learned that building a positive, welcoming and inclusive atmosphere is in many ways as important as the content of the discussion.

Would you recommend this host mentor and organization to other students?

I highly recommend Barzakh Editions and its CEO Selma Hellal. Barzakh is a privileged place from which to better understand contemporary Algerian culture. Some of the most inventive authors in various languages and genres gravitate around this publishing house. Moreover, Selma Hellal is an excellent supervisor, always open to discussions, propositions, and new initiatives.