Hisham Bustani Awarded Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Residency to Work on Forthcoming Short-story Collection

Short-story writer Hisham Bustani — co-winner of the 2014 Arkansas Translation Prize, along with translator Thorayya El Rayyes — has become the third Jordanian resident in the Bellagio Center’s nearly sixty-year history:

The residency, set for October, will give Bustani a chance to finish his upcoming book of short stories, to be published by Kotob Khan and launched at the 2018 Cairo International Book Fair.

The new book project, currently named A Long Inhalation Before Everything Ends, is made up of four chapters or books, according to Bustani. These are “The Book of Drowning,” which engages the theme of “refugees.”

“The idea of ‘home,” the myth of ‘homeland,’ the colonialist past, the oppressive present, and the sea as it transforms from a symbol of tranquility, relaxation, into an insurmountable barrier, a vast graveyard,” Bustani said over email.

The second book within the book — “The Book of Horror” — approaches “the general and personal infernos in which the modern Arab individual lives in, and passes through; it also has a special tribute to Amman in a story called ‘Shooting a Handcuffed City.'”

“The Book of Indolence,” Bustani writes, “is a continuation of my mockery of the consumerist, superficial, selfish, individual,” themes that he treated in his Arkansas Translation Prize-winning collection The Perception of Meaning. 

This, Bustani writes, “logically takes us to the next chapter: ‘The Book of Desperation,’ a violent literary engagement with a violent world that culminates in a final story tellingly entitled: ‘The End.

The name of the book comes from the last lines of this story.

In response to a question about how this differs from his previous work, Bustani wrote:

The stories will use different techniques, from internal first person narratives, to observer narratives, to descriptive cinematic approaches, all true to my definition of the short form as an interrogation of “the event.” This book also expands of my literary interests in “hybrids”: short story meeting prose poetry as this form has the best capacity to formulate questions rather than provide answers, and engage the reading in the process of generating meaning, generating the multiple existence of a text.

According to organizers, the Bellagio Arts & Literary Arts residency is for “composers, fiction and non-fiction writers, playwrights, poets, video/filmmakers, dancers, musicians, and visual artists who share in the Foundation’s mission of promoting the well-being of humankind and whose work is inspired by or relates to global or social issues.”

Among this year’s other “art and literary” residents is Sudanese-British novelist Leila Aboulela, who has a startling short story, “Majed,” in the new collection Don’t Panic I’m Islamic.