When does a label do more harm than good? In Iraq, the expression ‘youth literature’ has become more of a hindrance than a compliment.
At first sight, the term "youth" signals up-and-coming writers made up of new perspectives and fresh voices. But the problem is that the dismissive label never seems to wash away, no matter how much experience is gained.
This new generation of authors, who are trying to compete with established writers, are pigeonholed in this “starter phase” for the rest of their careers.
Nowadays, older writers will call an author on the cusp of fifty years old “young”. The word has negative connotations, of course: recklessness, excessive enthusiasm, and rashness.
In all avenues in Iraq, whether in literary unions, art associations, editorial boards or cultural cafes, youth literature refers to work produced by inexperienced authors, no matter their age. Their writing is supposedly incomplete, their expertise is lacking, and their tools are limited.
Their work can therefore not be taken seriously. It won’t be given due consideration or compared to the works of previous generations.
What’s more insidious, however, is that they remain "young"—i.e., dismissed—forever. Even if their hair turns grey and they have children who have outgrown them.
It seems that no one is willing to entertain the idea that a “young” author could offer a more mature, modern, or nuanced work than the pioneers of the late 1940s and beyond.
This cult-like worship of the past’s golden years has become so sacred that it can’t even be discussed.
Nowadays, the qualifier “young” has become the kiss of death for any Iraqi author—and indeed for any Iraqi artist, no matter their medium or their age.