In yet another sign that solidarity with Palestinians is now a central political value of liberal/left American culture, about 150 people jammed a room in the Center for Fiction in Manhattan a week ago to hear authors read from a new book, a literary collection called Extraordinary Rendition: (American) Writers on Palestine. Below you will see several videos I made of the writers.
The editor of the book, Ru Freeman, the Sir Lankan-American novelist, introduced the readers with an inspiring speech. Let me summarize it.
At an earlier gathering, a few contributors to the book were photographed, and one said, “What is there to smile about–” in reference to the situation in Palestine. And Freeman reflected that in her own extensive travels, “some of the warmest, wittiest, most joyful people I’ve ever met I met in Palestine,” and they had told her: Don’t cry for us. “Go back and do whatever you can do.” This book, she said, “is that can-do for me.”
There are 65 contributors to the book, and “65 is a pretty wonderful number.” As Arlo Guthrie said, If you have one person talking about something, they’re crazy, two people talking about it, they can be arrested, but when 50 people are talking about something, “my God, you have a movement.”
“Sixty-five is a hard-to-dismiss number… It’s hard to say that they’re only leftwing loonies… or only black, or only white, only east coast liberals, or only west coast treehuggers, or only the non Jewish or only the people who have never been to Palestine, or only those who have.”
What united all the writers, Freeman said, was that “they wanted to ameliorate the bridge that exists between national policy and personal moral culpability.” And all she asked of the writers was that they exhibit “parity of conscience.”
In a time when we can talk about any oppression, any war, any life, any death, any terror anywhere in the world with non-obfuscatory language, it seems only right that we are able to do the same when we talk about Palestine.
And Freeman said we are winning that moral struggle:
With each event we have, it becomes normal to say the word Palestine. With each event we have, it becomes easier to dismantle the narrative that has taken hold certainly in this country… of a land without a people. With each event that we host, it becomes extraordinarily ordinary to have a bunch of writers gathering together to speak about Palestine, as ordinary as it would be to speak about Russia, or France, or Cuba or Guatemala, or the United States. So this book is a gift of recognition as well, a way of saying to people in Palestine, we see you.
BTW, I had heard that there was institutional pushback against the event taking place. But there was no evidence of such resistance that evening in midtown.
Now here are videos of some of the writers. I’ll get the entire event video up when it’s posted.
First, here’s Nancy Kricorian reading a poem, Letter to Palestine with Armenian Proverbs. Her introduction to it is brilliant.
Here is Tiphanie Yanique reading a story that transposes the biblical story of Abraham, Isaac, Hagar, and Ishmael to the Virgin Islands.
Now here is Rickey Laurentiis, a Brooklyn poet by way of Louisiana, reading a portion of his incantatory poem, representing a “hard conversation” with Wallace Stevens, and dealing with violence against blacks in the south. “Of the Leaves that Have Fallen (Stevens, Like Decorations in a Nigger Cemetery)”
And this is the journalist and poet Tom Sleigh reading from an essay about the relationship between grief and grievance, based on observations from a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. And he also reads an ancient lamentation on war.