Tomorrow, at the Delfina Foundation, Guy Mannes-Abbott’s In Ramallah, Running will be launched:
Egypt Independent has a conversation between me and Mannes-Abbott and a brief excerpt from the book. The conversation begins:
Egypt Independent: Many readers’ impressions of Ramallah have been formed by Mourid Barghouti’s lovely “I Saw Ramallah,” and Raja Shehadeh’s “Palestinian Walks,” which your book, in some ways, challenges. Are there any other books or poems that inspired you?
Guy Mannes-Abbott: Yes, those are the most concrete voices, albeit with rather different weights in my writing. Other books and poems form more of a lifetime’s “mist,” but include Mahmoud Darwish of course. … But the hills and valleys hum with words about the impossibility and potential of “existing” anyway.
Adania Shibli sent me stories years ago, quietly articulating the preyed-upon interiors of her narrators. There’s also much art and film foregrounding the occupation. I wanted to do something else, to try to engage with the place itself, beyond the familiar abstractions of occupied space.
EI: How did the “In Ramallah, Running” project begin? Did you start running [in Ramallah] first, or want to write about Ramallah, and so ran?
Mannes-Abbott: It began with a very long-held aspiration to visit and so write about Palestine. … I’m far from being a lifetime runner but had begun running regularly before going to Ramallah and that folded into a primary desire to write about the place. What running did was to habituate me to intimate elements of the city quickly, throwing up people and taking me places I would not have encountered otherwise — road builders, patrolling soldiers, parents on school runs, families on dusky stoops.
EI: Barghouti’s “I Saw Ramallah” creates space for the reader who is unsympathetic to Palestinians: It is strongly self-critical. Your book seems to spend less time on that, and is more straightforward about what you find criminal.
Mannes-Abbott: Clearly it’s not my place and there are criticisms I won’t indulge. Essentially this is an open-air prison camp and such places generate cultures that are not perfect. So I tread firmly but approach at an angle, for instance when describing overlaps between Palestinian Authority development and Israeli settlement infrastructure.
In terms of readers, I know that very few can know what they will discover in the book. Few English-speaking readers encounter much about Palestinians’ right to exist, the interiors of the place or people there. I’m well aware how partisan the book will seem in the English-speaking world and am unapologetic; it was essential to write without trapping myself in tedious justifications or the dominant narrative.
Even so, in the first readings I’ve given it’s surprised me just how evidently moved audiences have been and the responsibility it brings. Keep reading on EI. And don’t miss the extract from the book, either.