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JM Coetzee and Colum McCann headline 9th Annual Palestine Festival of Literature

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The following press release was sent to us by the Palestine Festival of Literature:

From May 21st to 26th, the annual Palestine Festival of Literature (PalFest) will be held in cities across historic Palestine as international literary stars – including Nobel laureate JM Coetzee, Pulitzer Prize finalist Laila Lalami and National Book Award winners Colum McCann and Barry Lopez – perform free, public events in Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Haifa and Nablus.

PalFest is a traveling festival. Because Palestinians’ freedom of movement is so restricted by Israel’s occupation, the festival crosses military checkpoints to reach its audiences. By day, the international participants take politico-historical tours and meet with artists, authors and activists. By night, they stage free, public readings with their Palestinian counterparts.

Over its nine years, PalFest has hosted over 180 authors and industry professionals from a dozen countries and acts as a regular consultant for publishers, festivals and magazines in the UK, USA, Canada and India, helping to promote Palestine’s vibrant literary talent around the world. This will be the festival’s largest and most diverse edition so far with 31 authors from Palestine and abroad staging nine free, public events.

Palfest artists walk in the hills on the outskirts of Ramallah on June 5 2014 in Ramallah, Palestine. (Photo: Rob Stothard for The Palestine Festival of Literature)

Palfest artists walk in the hills on the outskirts of Ramallah on June 5 2014 in Ramallah, Palestine. (Photo: Rob Stothard for The Palestine Festival of Literature)

Alongside the public events, the international participants have a detailed itinerary that will bring them face to face with the physical realities of occupation across Palestine. Over the week they will visit al Khalil / Hebron, Aida refugee camp, the neighbourhoods of Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem and Ein Hod, a Palestinian village that was destroyed in 1948, and walk in the Ramallah hills with Orwell-prize winning author, Raja Shehadeh. PalFest has been dubbed “the Iron Man of literary festivals” because it is “the most physically and psychologically challenging festival in the literary world.”

PalFest Producer, Omar Robert Hamilton, says “while PalFest manages to travel hundreds of miles to its audiences over the festival week there is one place we still can’t get to: Gaza. The impenetrable siege means audiences can’t leave to attend festival events nor can the festival travel to them. So we will stage separate, but connected, events in Gaza City until the siege is lifted.”

Past participants of PalFest have said the following about their experience:

Teju Cole, renowned novelist and essayist: “PalFest made visible for me and many others the truth, struggle, and life of the West Bank. The organization was serious, and the ethical commitment was carefully considered. It is a journey I’m so grateful to have made, and one I’ll never forget as long as I live.”

China Miéville, best-selling author: “PalFest is not only the most powerful and important literary festival it’s ever been my privilege to attend, it’s one of the most powerful and important things I’ve experienced, full stop.”

Raja Shehadeh, Orwell-prize winning author: “Palfest is a unique literary festival like no other. It has been my great pleasure to participate in it  over the years. The Festival has brought some of the best international writers to Palestine helping breech the country’s isolation, increasing international understanding of Israel’s colonial policies in Palestine and doing a great service to literature and writing both in and outside the country.”

Richard Ford, author: “PalFest has been an invaluable and bracing corrective to my view of the Middle East and to my view of America.”

Molly Crabapple, artist and author: “PalFest was a literary festival like no other, using words to break through cages and art to transgress borders. I was honored to be one of their writers.”

The Complete List of Participants for 2016

Ali Abu Ajamieh, Saed Alswairki, Mahmoud Abu Areesheh, Anas Abu Rahmeh, Amina Abu Safat, Asmaa Azaizeh, Ahmed Azem, Lee Brackstone, Jehan Bseiso, JM Coetzee, Ben Ehrenreich, Inua Ellams, Khaled El-Nassiry, Mohamed Elshahed, Jocasta Hamilton, Nathalie Handal, Saidiya Hartman, Amer Hlehel, Anjali Joseph, Khaled Juma’a, Remi Kanazi, Majd Kayyal, Yasser Khanjar, Tarek Khateeb, Sarah McNally, Laila Lalami, Rickey Laurentiis, Barry Lopez, Ghiath Al Madhoun, Ahmed Masoud, Colum McCann, Ali Muassi, Ben Moser, Hisham Nafaa, Mostafa Qossoqsi, Jack Shenker, Bhakti Shringarpure, Ahdaf Soueif, Basima Takrori, Hzar Yousef.

All participants’ bios are online here.

PalFest is made possible by the generous support of private and institutional donors, through partnerships with Riad Kamal, the British Council and the Bank of Palestine.

All PalFest events are free and open to the public. They are in a combination of Arabic and English and simultaneous translation is provided.

PalFest 2015’s closing night in Ramallah. (Sketch by Molly Crabapple)

PalFest 2015’s closing night in Ramallah. (Sketch by Molly Crabapple)

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4 Responses

  1. just on May 16, 2016, 1:08 pm

    It’s wonderful and exciting. Thanks for the link to the site with bios and events. I appreciated being able to read this there:

    “We work to reaffirm, in the words of Edward Said, ‘the power of culture over the culture of power’”

  2. chocopie on May 16, 2016, 1:55 pm


    It’s interesting to read the blurb from Richard Ford, who said his participation in PalFest last year supplied a “corrective” to his views about the Middle East. I’d love to know more about how he ended up as a participant–usually the writers at Palfest have some kind of connection to the Middle East or write about issues related to colonialism, racism, apartheid, etc. Richard Ford seemed like an intriguing but unorthodox choice for Palfest. I think it’s great to invite authors who have no obvious connection to the Middle East. It sounds like his trip to Palestine might have exposed him to a new perspective, and that’s exciting, especially in a writer of his caliber.

  3. John Douglas on May 16, 2016, 4:17 pm

    This is such an impressive and important event, important to counter the dehumanized image of Palestinians that Israel seeks in so many ways to create. Insisting to refer to Palestinians as Arabs (the great mass of others) rather than Palestinians. Manipulating the word used to designate Palestinians who sought to return to the villages they had been forced to leave – “refugees” then “infiltrators” then “terrorists”. Trying to trivialize the word “Nakba”, using it to describe a sports loss. The constant use of the term “terrorist” even when the one attacked is a soldier (and the attacker is an adolescent). Literature is about language and a love of literature, written and oral, is about being human. I wish I could be there.

    • bintbiba on May 17, 2016, 7:16 pm

      “. Literature is about language and a love of literature, written and oral, is about being human. I wish I could be there. – ”

      Me too, John Douglas.

      Your assessment and comment about the verbal attitudes denigrating of the Palestinians are greatly appreciated !

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