The Writers’ Centre

A few days ago I went to the opening of the Writers’ Centre in the heart of Islamic Cairo. The centre has been set up by Linda Cleary, who describes herself as:

 “..a poet – writer – performer, originally from UK with a theatre background and Diploma in LAMDA Speech and Drama. As well as her own work as a writer, actor and performer she has been delivering workshops in creative writing, theatre and related arts for many years; working in Holland, Czech Republic, Australia, UK and Egypt..”

There has always been an art scene in Cairo, but ever since the revolution it has exploded. Walls are liberally covered in revolutionary graffiti, expressing distaste for the military and political parties. Demands are noted and murals are executed onto the blank canvas of a wall, paying homage to those who have passed away. Even the downtown Townhouse Gallery, which was established in 2000 caught on to this. They held an exhibition last year titled “This Is Not Graffiti”, inviting local artists to experiment with their work, bringing the conventional public art into a private space.

Writing and poetry are another form of art and one that the Writers Centre has been established to support. It is unexpectedly situated on the roof of the Arabian Hotel, five minutes from the hectic market of Khan Al-Khalili. You have to wade through hordes of sellers, tackle the treacherous traffic and turn a blind eye to the grubby streets in order to reach there. The hotel sign is enormous, brightly lit up in red, a beacon penetrating the grime. It’s hard to miss.

Climb up the three flights of stairs (mind the wobbly banister) and walk through the door into the alfresco centre. The opening was already in full swing, with individuals narrating their poems or stories. Long benches were lined up against the walls and a colourful cloth helped separate another seating area. Covering half the roof was a canopy made from wood, offering shade during the day. I quickly grabbed a seat and immediately became engrossed in the readings. I experienced a fusion of emotions, at times reflecting on the words and other times laughing out loud.

One poem was about a paper bag and the need to break free from the constraints of it. Only when it rains is the person able to break free and breathe again. A humorous story by a British ex tour guide recounts his experience of leading a group in Luxor all by donkey. He opened his story with the words of an Egyptian donkey handler, who informed him the donkey he will be riding is called Bob Marley. The story weaves a comical narration of dialogue and incidents, most notably when the animal gets too amorous.

A white and orange striped cat (that resembled a skinnier version of my own portly house cat) leisurely roamed around, causing some distraction to recitals. She weaved in and out of our legs seeming to frantically forage for something (most likely food). At the end I found her blissfully curled up on someones lap, savouring the attention she was searching for.

There was mesmorising music by a violin player, and a clarinet band. Interesting enough, one of the songs played by the clarinet band was called Gollywog’s Cakewalk, by the French composer Charles Debussy. Much to the delight of attendees, there was entertainment provided by the local Egyptian Tannoura group. Three traditionally dressed men played instruments while a young teenager, clothed in a voluminous coloured skirt, twirled to the beat. It was impressive watching him keep his pose and at the same time perform some amazing stunts with the skirt.

Linda has worked really hard in opening the centre and although it is far from complete (book shelves are needed and books), it looks great and you can tell a lot of devotion has gone into it. Attending the event inspired me to write more and I’m hoping that being amidst the books and inspirational minds, it will propel me forward. Hopefully the centre will help you to.

The Writers’ Centre
Roof of the Arabian Hotel
10 Al Aaded Street (Off Al Mansouria Street)
El Darassa
Old Cairo

Opening hours: Daily, 12:30pm to 10:30pm

Facilities: Wi-Fi access, bathroom and parking by the hotel


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