Iraqi woman's blog competes for literary prize
An anonymous Iraqi woman has become the first blogger to be in the running for a big literary prize for a book published between hard covers.
Baghdad Burning, by a 26-year-old author who has won an international readership under the pen name Riverbend, is short-listed for the £30,000 (US $52,000) Samuel Johnson award.
She is up against 18 other books, including Alan Bennett's latest bestseller, Histories of the Cold War and The Great Wall of China, and a biography of the 19th-century cookbook author, Mrs. Beeton.
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.
It has already come third in the Lettre Ulysses prize for Reportage, winning £14,000 pounds (US$24,000), and was short-listed for an Index on Censorship freedom of expression award.
Riverbend began the blog with the words: "I am female, Iraqi and 24. I survived the war. That is all you need to know. It is all that matters these days anyway."
University-educated 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.
In one of her entries dated March 18, 2006, Riverbend reflects on how Iraq has changed since the US-led invasion.
Like many others, she is most concerned about the growing divide between the Sunni and Shi'a sects of Islam, a divide she says barely existed in her childhood. It is now fuelling violence that has been described by some as civil war.
"The thing most worrisome about the situation now, is that discrimination based on sect has become so commonplace," Riverbend wrote.