The National has a profile on next year’s “Palestine Writes” festival, set for
In March of 2020, the US will see its first-ever multi-day Palestinian literature festival. The schedule for “Palestine Writes,” to be held in New York City, is crammed with Palestinian literary greats, including Ibrahim Nasrallah, Huzama Habayeb, Adania Shibli, Mahmoud Shukair, and Ghassan Zaqtan, while also boasting an appearance by iconic American activist and scholar Angela Davis.
Some participating authors live in the US and regularly appear at festivals. But for others, it will be their first time at a North American event.
The bilingual festival is set to open with poetry and music on the evening of Friday, March 27, 2020, just before Palestinians mark the resistance-commemorating “Land Day.” The schedule for Saturday and Sunday is filled with panel discussions, workshops, and plenaries, with some 50 authors, artists, and publishers expected to appear. Among them are winners of the Griffin Poetry Prize, the Naguib Mahfouz Medal, Beirut39, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, the Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature, and the Mahmoud Darwish Prize.
Festival co-chair Susan Abulhawa said, over the phone from her home in Pennsylvania, that the lineup is intentionally packed. ” We want attendees to feel they want to process all they’ve heard for days after the festival. The discussions and workshops are meant to be stimulating, intellectually and spiritually. In short, we want to give people things to think about, books to read, ideas to ponder.”
The festival promises to introduce New York-area bibliophiles to dozens of Palestinian authors they wouldn’t otherwise know. “These are giants in our part of the world,” Abulhawa said. “But here they’re unknown.”
Both Saturday and Sunday morning, festival-goers can arrive as early as 8:30 a.m. for breakfast and a cultural market that will feature books, art, magazines, and more. “People can come in, have coffee, walk around, talk to each other,” Abulhawa said.
The first panels and workshops are set to begin at 10 a.m., with several to choose from. Authors on the panels will be free to speak in English, Arabic, or both, with simultaneous translation available for anyone who needs it.
On the first morning, memoirist and YA author Ibtisam Barakat will lead a workshop on writing memoir and family biography. She said over email that, at most festivals where she appears, she is the only Palestinian. By contrast, this festival will bring together a mosaic of voices “to tell a more complete, larger story. That’s unique given the fragmentation of Palestinians.”
Barakat said that the Palestinian experience can provide a key window into life-writing, as it gives “an example of how to beautifully and creatively tell a story that the world has a hard time hearing.” This experience can help writers from other backgrounds learn to tell aspects of their life stories that readers refuse to hear.