Ahmed Naji at Harvard Book Store


Rotten Evidence:
Reading and Writing in an Egyptian Prison 

In conversation with ALEXANDRA CHREITEH


November 13, 2023
7:00 PM ET


Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store welcomes AHMED NAJI—novelist, documentary filmmaker, and criminal—for a discussion his new memoir, Rotten Evidence:Reading and Writing in an Egyptian Prison. He will be joined in conversation by ALEXANDRA CHREITEH—author of Always Coca-Cola and Ali and his Russian Mother.

About Rotten Evidence

In February 2016, Ahmed Naji was sentenced to two years in prison for “violating public modesty,” after an excerpt of his novel Using Life reportedly caused a reader to experience heart palpitations. Naji ultimately served ten months of that sentence, in a group cell block in Cairo’s Tora Prison.

Rotten Evidence is a chronicle of those months. Through Naji’s writing, the world of Egyptian prison comes into vivid focus, with its cigarette-based economy, home-made chess sets, and well-groomed fixers. Naji’s storytelling is lively and uncompromising, filled with rare insights into both the mundane and grand questions he confronts.

How does one secure a steady supply of fresh vegetables without refrigeration? How does one write and revise a novel in a single notebook? Fight boredom? Build a clothes hanger? Negotiate with the chief of intelligence? And, most crucially, how does one make sense of a senseless oppression: finding oneself in prison for the act of writing fiction. Genuine and defiant, this book stands as a testament to the power of the creative mind, in the face of authoritarian censorship.

Praise for Rotten Evidence

“Ahmed Naji confronts what happens when one’s fundamentally unserious, oversexed youth dovetails with an authoritarian, utterly self-serious regime.”—Zadie Smith, author of The Fraud

“A powerful account of an artist plunged into a Kafkaesque encounter with state censorship.”—Jordan Kisner, author of Thin Places: Essays from In Between

“A remarkable deviation from conventional prison narratives ... navigates multiple genres to tell us about history, books, talismans of power, social classes, multiplicity of desires, wicked destinies, and bonds of friendship that develop in a prison.”—Iman Mersal, author of The Threshold

Mask Policy

Masks are encouraged but not required for this event.

Ahmed Naji
Ahmed Naji

Ahmed Naji

Ahmed Naji is a writer, journalist, documentary filmmaker, and criminal. His novel Using Life (2014) made him the only writer in Egyptian history to have been sent to prison for offending public morality. Other published novels in Arabic are Tigers, uninvited (2020) and The happy end (2022). Naji has won several prizes, including a Dubai Press Club Award, and PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.

Alexandra Chreiteh
Alexandra Chreiteh

Alexandra Chreiteh

Alexandra Chreiteh is a Lebanese novelist and academic known for her queer, feminist work and interest in margins and borderlands. She is the author of two novels in Arabic, Always Coca-Cola and Ali and his Russian Mother. Her work has been translated to English, German, and French. In addition to her creative work, she received a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Yale in 2016 and is currently Mellon Bridge Assistant Professor of International Literary and Visual Studies at Tufts University. Her academic monograph is tentatively titled Other Realisms: a Theory of the Arabic Fantastic.

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