Friday Finds: An Interview with Amer Hlehel and Amir Nizar Zuabi about ‘Taha’

Over at Middle East Eye, Joe Gill talks with actor-writer Amer Hlehel and writer-director Amir Nizar Zuabi about their play Taha, based on and around the life of Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali:

The play follows the life of Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali, who was also the subject of Adina Hoffman’s award-winning biography My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century. From Shubbak organizers:

Forced from his home in Galilee in 1948, Taha and his family must face the reality of war. At a young age he supports his family, immerses himself in literature, teaches himself Arabic – and falls in love. Growing up in a world where stability is only ever fleeting, poetry becomes a comforting constant.

Hlehel and Zuabi discuss the playtext in greater depth with Gill at Middle East Eye, noting where the text diverges from something the poet himself might’ve said. Gill writes:

Taha begins and ends with the line: “In my life nothing came easy. I came into the word despite its will, it never wanted me.” Hlehel explains to Middle East Eye that the line is his, not the poet’s. “I think the original Taha wouldn’t say this line, because he was a very optimistic person, but I think for the play it was right to say it, because nothing came easy for Taha.”

Also Hlehel:

It is very dangerous what I’m going to say: Taha’s poetry about the Palestinian catastrophe lasts much more than Darwish’s poetry. Even Darwish’s last 15 years of his life, he didn’t write political poetry – he said he just wanted to get rid from it. It was very naive and political, not so deep and personal. I think this is what makes Taha very special in the Palestinian poetry scene.


Zuabi sees Taha as an example in how he lived his life, as a self-educated Palestinian poet selling Christian souvenirs to pilgrims from his shop on Casanova Street in Nazareth. “We need to get on and do what we can in our lives, and this is what he has done.”

Read the whole interview-review at Middle East Eye.

See it at Shubbak through tomorrow. Or, if you miss it at Shubbak, the play will continue at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival August 2-13.