Iraqi blogger up for non-fiction award


An Iraqi woman has become the first blog author to be nominated for the £30,000 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.

The author, a 26 year old university graduate who writes under the pseudonym Riverbend, chronicles the "three years ofoccupation and bloodshed" the city has endured and calls for the withdrawal of US troops.

Riverbend worked as a computer programmer before the invasion which began on March 20, 2003. She lost her job, she told her readers, when it became too dangerous for Iraqi women to travel to work alone.

Her blog, Baghdad Burning is a first-hand account of how the war has destroyed the lives of ordinary Iraqi citizens.

She began the blog 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."

The small literary publisher Marion Boyars brought out Baghdad Burning last year, classifying it under biography and memoir. The publishing house says it knows Riverbend's identity but respects her wish to remain anonymous.

The resulting book has been longlisted for the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize, the world's richest non-fiction award.

The prize is open to writers of any nationality 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.

The 19 longlisted books were whittled down from 168 entries.

The winner will be announced at an awards dinner at the Savoy Hotel in London on June 14 and will be broadcast live on BBC Four.

It is unlikely the author of Baghdad Burning will attend.

Baghdad Burning has already come third in the Lettre Ulysses prize for Reportage,
winning £14,000, and was shortlisted for an Index on Censorship freedom of expression award.

The Times Online describes Baghdad Burning as "a visceral first-hand account of how the war has destroyed the lives of ordinary Iraqi citizens" while another reviewer has called Riverbend's writing "a cross between an underground manifesto and a polished cultural history".

Her postings chronicle her anger and fear at life in the new Iraq.

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

Publishing house Marion Boyars says it knows Riverbend's identity but respects her wish to remain anonymous.

The Samuel Johnson Prize judging panel is chaired by Professor Robert Winston who says: "The judges were really delighted by the outstanding quality of the submissions this year.

"It is hardly surprising that drawing up a longlist was a very tough undertaking.

But we have read and chosen really excellent books – all outstandingly well-written – and the longlist contains an exceptionally wide variety of genres from modern to ancient history, politics, philosophy, science and art, biography and autobiography.

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