Mahmoud Shukair: A Debt of Gratitude to Editors

By Essayed Taha

Mahmoud Shukair is a Palestinian writer born in Jabal al-Mukaber, Jerusalem, in 1941. He writes both short stories and novels, catering to adults as well as young readers. To date, he has authored seventy-nine books, scripted six lengthy television series, penned four plays, and contributed to the creation of nine publications. His literary works have been translated into twelve languages, including English, French, Italian, and Swedish. He has held prominent roles in the Jordanian Writers Association and the General Union of Palestinian Writers and Journalists.

Shukair has been honored with numerous awards, including the 2011 Mahmoud Darwish Award for Freedom and Creativity, the 2015 Jerusalem Award for Culture and Creativity, and the 2019 State of Palestine Award for Literature. His novel Praise for the Women of the Family (translated to English by Paul Starkey) made it to the shortlist of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2016. Additionally, his work for young readers, Me, My Friend, and the Donkey (an excerpt has been translated by Anam Zafar) was recognized as one of the top 100 books for young readers globally in 2018.

Throughout his career, he has traversed between Beirut, Amman, and Prague, but at present he lives in Jerusalem.

“What editors do not do is impose their opinions on me. Instead, they offer suggestions, and I retain the right to either accept or reject them. This underscores their ethical approach and honest relationship with me as the author.”

Can you define the role of an editor? What do editors do? And what don’t they do?

The editor serves as the “critical eye” who comes into play after the author, with the primary aim of highlighting the shortcomings in a literary work, whether it’s a novel, autobiography, or a collection of stories. They offer suggestions to the author to address these shortcomings and elevate the quality of the literary piece.

Through my experiences working with editors at Naufal in Beirut and with editors at the Tamer Institute for Community Education in Ramallah, Palestine, I’ve found that they play a vital role in rectifying linguistic errors and refining expressions in the text that might be unclear or imprecise. They also provide valuable input on selecting the most appropriate title for the literary work and offer insights into character development and enhancement.

What editors do not do is impose their opinions on me. Instead, they offer suggestions, and I retain the right to either accept or reject them. This underscores their ethical approach and honest relationship with me as the author.

In your opinion, why is developmental editing important for authors?

This is crucial, as it helps eliminate any shortcomings in the literary work, presenting it to readers in a more polished and complete form. During a visit to Oslo for a Palestinian cultural week, I had the opportunity to meet a literary editor from Norway. She shared that, in her editing process, she frequently removes paragraphs and scenes that serve no essential purpose in the text, a step often supported by the author.

Would you be willing to tell us about a time an editor helped you develop your ideas, characters, etc?

Certainly, I owe a debt of gratitude to the literary editor Samar Abou-Zeid. My literary relationship with her began in 2009, when she worked at Naufal in Beirut. From that time until now, even after she left Naufal for another publishing house, Samar has meticulously edited and cared for the majority of my books, whether they were published by Naufal or other publishing houses. She has contributed to language and punctuation corrections and has consistently provided suggestions for improving the literary content.

For instance, when she read my autobiographical manuscript, Those Places, she didn’t like the first chapter of the memoir and said that it did not encourage the reader to keep going. I took her advice to heart and deleted that chapter, replacing it with a new one.

I’m also grateful to the literary editor Rana Hayeck, who came to Naufal after Samar Abou-Zeid left. Rana has edited several of my books, ensuring language and punctuation accuracy and offering valuable suggestions. For example, when she edited my novel Another Shadow of the Family, she suggested changing the title, and I accepted her proposal, leading to the book being published as Shadows of the Family.

I must not forget the literary editor and novelist Ahmed Mohsen, who works at Naufal. He recently edited my autobiography, Those Times, and I believe he will edit more of my books in the future.

I am also grateful to Renad Qubbaj, the director of the Tamer Institute for Community Education in Ramallah, Palestine, which focuses on children’s literature. The institute published seven of my books, and each one went through a committee formed by Renad herself, Leila Al-Battaran, Ahlam Bisharat, Hala Ashraf, Mohammed Al-Zaqzouq, and others. This committee provided numerous suggestions, leaving me the freedom to accept or reject them. For instance, when I submitted my book about Ghassan Kanafani with the title Ghassan Kanafani: The Amazing Journey, Renad suggested finding another title. She proposed Ghassan Kanafani: A Journey of Love, which I liked at first, but the committee didn’t, so we eventually settled on the title Ghassan Kanafani: Forever.

I’m also grateful to several friends, critics, novelists, poets, and journalists to whom I have presented my manuscripts for their feedback before sending them to publishers. They have consistently provided me with serious and profound comments and suggestions. Notable among them are the critic Walid Abu Bakr, critic Hassan Khodair, poet and novelist Ibrahim Nasrallah, literary critic Dr. Mohammad Obaidallah, poet Lana Al-Majali, short story writer and novelist Huzama Habayeb, journalist and writer Elias Nasrallah, and others.