Dialogues of Naguib Mahfouz:
By Mohamed Salmawy
I once heard from Mohamed Hassanein Heikal that it took him years to get Naguib Mahfouz to work for Al-Ahram. So I asked Mahfouz about the story. He said:
"My first contact with Al-Ahram was in 1957, a few months after Heikal became chief editor. I was at Ihsan Abdel-Quddous's home at the time. Ihsan was throwing a party for me to celebrate the State Award that I had just won. Ali Hamdi Al-Gammal, then managing editor of Al-Ahram, was there. He told me that Heikal was interested in publishing my future work. I wasn't writing at the time, for I had just finished the Trilogy and was going through a dry patch. I told him that I couldn't promise him anything."
"Two years after that, I resumed writing. I wrote Children of the Alley and Al-Ahram published it. After that I quit my job as chief of the Cinema Agency and Tharwat Okasha, then culture minister, appointed me as his adviser. Then one day Heikal called me, saying that he had an office waiting for me in the new building of Al-Ahram. I couldn't take the job, for I didn't want to offend Okasha. So I told Heikal that it would be an honour to join the prominent literary figures who were working for Al-Ahram, but I must wait till I retire from the Ministry of Culture. The day I reached retirement age, I went to see Al-Gammal."
"Heikal knew I was in the building and he asked to see me. The office he had promised me was gone by then. So he asked me to share an office with Hussein Fawzi and Bint Al-Shatie. Their office was next to that of Tawfiq Al-Hakim, at the famous sixth floor which was set aside to novelists and artists, such as Zaki Naguib Mahmoud and Salah Taher. This is how I became a writer for Al-Ahram."
"In all honesty, Heikal used to treat us with great respect. When he wanted to discuss something with us, he came over to our offices. He never summoned any of us to his office, although he did summon ministers and senior officials and they were happy to oblige."
"My working for Al-Ahram was a turning point in my life. Before that, I used to finish my novels and send them to the publisher. But now my works were serialised in Al-Ahram before they were published, which meant that more people were reading my work."