In Beirut: Stone Walls Do Not a Writers’ House Make

This week, Beirut hosts its Francophone Book Fair, an annual event now celebrating its 20th year. Among the events was the launch of the city’s International House of Writers. Contributor Mishka Mojabber Mourani was there:

By Mishka Mojabber Mourani

Photo courtesy Mishka
From left to right: Sylviane Dupuis, Alexandre Najjar, Charif Majdalani, Cathie Barreau, Elias Khoury. Photo courtesy: Mishka Mojabber Mourani.

In his novel Caravanserail, Charif Majdalani tells the story of a man who dismantles a palace in North Africa and transports it across desert and sea to his hometown of Beirut.  Real life imitated fiction with a twist yesterday , when that same author launched a project that he has been working on for several years: the establishment of an International House of Writers in Beirut.

The twist lies in the absence of an actual building to house the IHWB foundation.  However, in the words of Elias Khoury, who worked with Majdalani on the project and was present at the launching, “literature has no need for walls, doors, or windows.”

The International House of Writers foundation was launched at the 20th  annual Francophone  book fair at BIEL, with introductions by Majdalani, Khoury, and authors Cathie Barreau,  Sylviane Dupuis,  and  Alexandre Najjar.  (Patrick Deville of the Maison des Ecrivains Etrangers et des Traducteurs of St. Nazaire was scheduled, but unable to attend.)

He emphasized the role of translation and announced the publication of an annual journal that will feature original texts translated to  Arabic, English, and French.

In his introduction, Majdalani outlined the association’s vision,  purpose, and program, which includes the promotion of international literature in a country that has bridged continents and cultures, thanks to its geographical location, cultural and linguistic diversity, and its diaspora. He emphasized the role of translation and announced the publication of an annual journal that will feature original texts translated to  Arabic, English, and French.

Majdalani thanked the Municipality of Beirut and other funders for their support, and described the partnerships already in place with similar organizations in France, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy.

French writer Cathie Barreau described the experience of the Maison Julien Gracq, followed by  Swiss author Sylviane Dupuis, who is in charge of the Maison pour la litterature and Maison Rousseau in Geneva.

Novelist Alexandre Najjar, who relaunched the venerable Lebanese literary monthly L’Orient Litteraire and is the publisher of L’Orient des Livres, announced the launch of a yearly journal to support the work of the International House of Writers in Beirut.

Writer Elias Khoury drew an analogy between the virtual International House of Writers and the realities of Syrian and Palestinian refugee camps. He spoke of the role of literature in an Arab world besieged by oppressive rulers on the one hand and occupation on the other.

Charif Majdalani concluded by outlining the focus of the foundation’s work, namely, “to encourage debate around the forms of literature that exist and thrive between two cultures…including:

  • The literature of the New World and that of the Old World

  • Literary work in multilingual cultures

  • Literary works of minorities

  • Immigrants and diaspora literature, and the relationship between immigrant writers and the literature of their host country.”

The association will launch its activities in May 2014 with a series of international literary meetings involving 15 writers from around the world and centering on the theme of writers between two cultures.

Those interested can find more at https://www.facebook.com/beytelkottab.

mishkaMishka Mojabber Mourani’s (@MishkaMM1) most recent book is ALONE TOGETHER, co-authored with Aida Yacoub Haddad. It is published by Kutub – Beirut, 2012. ISBN: 9789953554167; you can read more about the bilingual project here. Mourani is also the author of the memoir BALCONIES, which is distributed by Lebanon’s Dar an-Nahar.

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