Anonymous Iraqi blogger in the running for literary prize

By Terri Judd, Louise Jury

An anonymous Iraqi woman has been nominated for one of the Britain's most prestigious literary prizes, after writing a blog charting "three years of occupation and bloodshed" in Baghdad.

Alongside literary giants such as Alan Bennett, the 27-year-old Iraqi university graduate has been longlisted for the £30,000 (NZ$85,000) Samuel Johnson Prize, the most valuable award in non-fiction.

Writing under the pseudonym Riverbend - the blog (see link below) chronicles three war-ravaged years in her home city and calls for the withdrawal of US troops.

Baghdad Burning, published by the independent publishers, Marion Boyars, is among 19 candidates for the award which is open to any writers whose books are published in English.

Other contenders include Untold Stories by Alan Bennett, After The Victorians by AN Wilson, and a biography of Mrs Beeton by Kathryn Hughes.

Little is known about the author of Baghdad Burning, who prefers to remain anonymous.

The blog begins in September 2003 with the words:

"I'm female, Iraqi and 24.

I survived the war.

That's all you need to know. It's all that matters these days anyway."

A former computer programmer before the invasion, she lost her job as travel to and from her workplace became too dangerous.

Instead she has chronicled her anger and fear in postings.

In her latest entry on 18 March she wrote: "I don't think anyone imagined three years ago that things could be quite this bad today.

"The last few weeks have been ridden with tension.

"I'm so tired of it all - we're all tired."

One reviewer has called her writing "a cross between an underground manifesto and a polished cultural history".

The winner will be announced at an awards dinner at the Savoy Hotel in London on 14 June.

Professor Robert Winston - the fertility expert who chaired the panel of judges that included Richard Eyre, the theatre director, and Cristina Odone, the novelist and columnist - said they were delighted by the "outstanding quality" of the submissions.

"The books on this list will undoubtedly excite and entrance readers but finalising a shortlist is going to be excessively difficult.

"I was a concerned there was too much history, but the nice thing about the list is there are some books that are obviously selling very well, like Alan Bennett's Untold Stories, and others that are hardly selling and that people haven't heard of."


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