In Graz, Austria next week, Algerian-German novelist Boualem Sansal, Egyptian novelist Ibrahim Farghali, and Lebanese novelist Alawiyya Sobh (among others) will appear at the “Baklava Reading Festival” (yes, that sort of baklava)–
Meanwhile, this week in Singapore, Palestinian memoirist-doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish, Jordanian short-story-writer Hisham Bustani and Algerian-American graphic novelist Khalil will take part in an Arabic-lit focus at the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF).
Bustani noted that this is “one of the few times a major Asian literary event is giving some attention to Arab literature.”
Mimi Kirk, an editor with Singapore’s Middle East Institute who will moderate at the SWF, said that the interest in Arabic literature and culture was certainly sparked by the “Arab Spring,” and the festival is hosting writers who can discuss political, economic, and cultural changes. But she added “that the larger goal is to foster connectivity between Singapore and the Arab world/Middle East.”
The interest began fomenting even before December 2010, Kirk said.
But Singaporean interest in the Middle East has been increasing for awhile now – for instance, the institute at which I am the editor (the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore) was founded five years ago (in 2007). We’ve seen a lot of growth in the public’s interest in the region through our lectures, social media platforms, and other events, such as film screenings at the Arts House. And there are already a lot of business links between Singapore and the region in terms of oil, as Singapore imports most of its oil from the Gulf and also refines a lot of oil. But I’m not sure there’s been much on connectivity via literature until now – so this is where SWF’s ME focus comes in and fills a gap.
Oil aside, I like it. More connections from Arab countries to the world (that don’t go through a framing device created by US or UK publishers, much as I love you all) is good.
Meanwhile, will they actually serve baklava at the Austrian reading festival? Anyhow, entrance is free, so if you’re in Graz, Farghali will read from his novel Sons of Gabalawi and give a lecture on the future of Egyptian literature after the revolution and under the authority of the Muslim Brotherhood. Plus, maybe there will be sweets. You never know.
Also note: Although one chapter of Sons of Gabalawi has been translated for the festival, it does not yet have a translator either for the German or the English (or amongst you lazy Italians*, either). If you feel you could do the book a good turn in English, do contact the AUCP.
Singapore Writers Festival program. (non-PDF)
*I’m not serious. You Italians are my favorites.