Earlier this week, organizers announced the literary lineup of the fourth annual Palestine Festival of Literature, popularly known as PalFest.
The traveling festival is set to run from April 15-20, stopping at locations in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Jenin, Ramallah, and elsewhere.
Participating Palestinian authors include gonzo memoirist Suad Amiry, award-winning poets Najwan Darwish and Nathalie Handal, celebrated nonfiction writer Raja Shehadeh, academic Basem Ra’ad, and Beirut39 short story writer Ala Hlehel. Also on board are more than a dozen international authors. Among them are celebrated Egyptian-British author and PalFest founder Ahdaf Soueif, Indian poet Meena Alexander, American novelist/critic Lorraine Adams, and American novelist/screenwriter Richard Price. (The full list.)
In a prepared release, Soueif said:
At a time when the spectacular push for freedom in the Arab world is capturing the world’s attention, it is particularly important for PalFest to continue to travel to its audiences, imprisoned behind checkpoints; to work with its bookseller, threatened with deportation, and to forge creative links between Palestine and the world.
Amiry, who wrote the hilarious, moving, and at times forehead-slapping Nothing to Lose But Your Life, added, “What more do Palestine and the Palestinians need than breaking the isolation created by the Israeli Occupation for the last 44 years?”
The festival has been criticized as overemphasizing English-language literature and writers, but organizers said this year that they affirm “the equal weight of English and Arabic speaking cultures. [PalFest] is committed to providing a two-way experience for all its participants, audiences and authors, students and speakers. It’s the Festival where everyone performs, everyone gives and everyone gets.”
All events are free of charge “and everybody is welcome.”
In other Palestinian literary news:
Palestinian novelist and short-story writer Adania Shibli is not one of the speakers at this year’s PalFest, although the Beirut39-winning author is thanked in the release for all her help.
Last month, Hilary Plum of Clockroot Books wrote a post for the ThreePercent blog about why she thought Shibli’s longlisted Touch should win this year’s Best Translated Book Award. Plum wrote:
In years of reading literature in translation, of reading Arabic fiction—really just in years of reading—Pam and I had never read anything quite like Touch. Its spare, idiosyncratic beauty, the slow pace of the girl’s encounter with the world, so slow as to be merciless, to break your heart, but no, you must go on steadily, as she does. When I think of the novel, I don’t remember particular phrases so much as a feeling, something like: the side of a fist rubbing away the breath fogged within a car windshield—outside, it’s just night.
Plum also referred to a recent interview Shibli gave, in which she was asked if she represented a new generation of Palestinian authors? The answer, of course, was no, followed by, “In fact I hardly represent myself and most often fail to do so.” She also, according to Plum, beautifully described Palestinian literature as “the literature of the last breath that never ends.”
The campaign to allow bookseller and PalFest supporter Munther Fahmi to stay in Jerusalem, the city of his birth, continues.
PalFest is also mourning the murder of theater-project manager Juliano Mer Khamis. As Giles Croft notes in The Guardian, Mer Khamis wanted to work on the third intifada, which he described as needing to be “cultural; with poetry, music, theatre, cameras and magazines.”
And in The National, Sinan Antoon discusses an early prose work of Mahmoud Darwish, the patron saint of Palestinian literary projects—well, if someone so secular can be sainted.
I love the sentiment of speaking not in spite of but BECAUSE of and AGAINST borders and WALLS. It makes the loss of Juliano Mer Khamis’ life, as well as his mother’s, that much more wrenching. But the solidarity of this festival’s effort will galvanize the cause to hear the Palestinians’ struggles that are becoming more wretched every day.
More specifically, I love the last point made in this manifesto for Palestine. Dr. Antoon is a wonderful thinker. But he can often give voice to poetics that wrench Darwish’s poetry which is not about nationalisms or religio-centric abstractions like martyrdom or savior-status. Palestine does not need a REDEEMER: they need a struggle for justice and rights, and even more so, to the right to have rights, the right to EQUITY. Moreover, nationalism cannot be subjected to what Antoon’s language about the Arab resistance on the steets has been about–mythic birds that act as vehicles of transport and understanding. It does not understand how translation and translocation occur and, more importantly, how histories become not just metalanguages but abstactions which only academics respond to. Possibly, Antoon speaks as an academic and academics have always spoken FOR not OF and not IN revolutionary struggles. Moreover, with specific concern on Darwish’s poetry: it is of and about and in the WATAN (the home-land) of the peoples of Palestine-Israel inclusive of their varied histories that are barely utterable in the interstitial spaces of language.
Thanks for giving people with an interest in the Arab world and its literature a forum to listen to themselves as they are heard and express themselves in turn.
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