From #TweetYourThobe, where Palestinian women showed off their traditional embroidery dresses, and which resulted in the Museum of the Palestinian People launching the International Day of Tatreez, to #MyPalestinianSitti, where younger Palestinian men and women shared stories about their grandmother, to the newly-opened Museum of the Palestinian People itself in Washington DC, and the Palestine Museum in Connecticut, Palestinians are putting their stories, their opinions, their narratives, and their experiences, front and center.
Joining in the gush of celebrations of Palestinian arts and culture, the first Palestinian Literature festival in North America, “Palestine Writes,” is scheduled to take place in New York City on March 27-29, 2020, just ahead of the planned Palestinian Land Day march in the city. As the organizers write on the festival’s website: “Palestine Writes will be the first major festival dedicated to the celebration of Palestinian literature in the United States. Palestine Writes will bring together writers, artists, publishers, booksellers, and scholars to hold conversations about art, literature, and the intersections between culture, struggle, and politics. The common threads uniting all participants are the love of books and support for Palestine. Our festival honors the many historic personalities who have walked this path before us, and showcases living voices celebrating Palestinian life, devoted to the belief that art challenges repression and creates bonds between Palestine and the rest of the world. Palestine Writes will highlight the richness of Palestinian art for a North American audience who may not have had the opportunity to experience this work due to lack of linguistic access, the severe restrictions on movement of Palestinians, and the censorship and repression of Palestinian speech in the US.”
Palestine Writes is a landmark for Palestinian culture in North America, and will be the first chance for many people to hear the voices of some of the greatest living Palestinian writers. (Many will be reading or presenting in Arabic, with simultaneous translation). It brings together close to fifty participants, some established, many emerging young talents. It is also an opportunity for many of the panelists to engage in important discussions across cultures.
The number of speakers might grow, and the program become even more representative because, since we launched the website and started promoting the festival, many writers have reached out to us asking to be on the program, and we are doing our best to accommodate as many as we can, within our finite and not yet bankable resources. (Mondoweiss is one of the sponsors, and you can support the project by donating here). Confirmed speakers include Angela Y. Davis, a longtime supporter of Palestinian rights, novelists Randa Jarrar, Huzama Habayeb, Leila Abdelrazzaq and Ibtisam Azem; and scholars, writers, and playwrights Keeanga Yamahhta-Taylor, Eddie Glaude, Ramzy Baroud, Ibrahim Nasrallah, Ryan Little Eagle Pierce and Nick Estes (among many others) who will speak on such intersectional issues as incarceration and prison writing, indigenous dispossession and cultural appropriation, memoir writing, writing in the oppressor’s tongue, and more. The young Gazan painter Malak Mattar will also be there, showing some of her work, as part of an art exhibit showcasing Palestinian painting, from Naji al-Ali to Samia Halaby. A stellar lineup of poets, including Remi Kanazi, Rafeef Ziadah, Dareen Tatour, and Lena Khalaf Tuffaha, will read their work on opening night, and the whole event will be bilingual, with translation throughout. We are hoping to screen Palestinian actor and director Elia Suleiman’s latest film, “It Must Be Heaven,” representing the country’s entry at the 2020 Oscars, and of course no Palestinian event will be complete without a hafla, with dabke, in the evening. Daytime workshops will teach novices how to participate in this festive collective dance. And we’re working on mana’eesh for breakfast.
Nearly half the participants will be flying in from outside the US, and of those, 18 (so far) are Palestinians, scattered from the historic homeland to Canada. There will be literary discussions, of course, but also, art exhibitions that showcase specific themes, Palestinian music, and a cultural market with book vendors. As Susan Abulhawa, co-chair of the festival, put it: “”We are an ancient people, with a vibrant culture of literary, culinary, musical and artistic traditions that are inextricable from the land that birthed our society. Palestine Writes is a festival to celebrate our cultural productions—an urgent imperative for a people who are being erased from history and maps.”
I am one of the organizers, and can vouch that pulling off such an ambitious project was challenging, but also, considering the very enthusiastic response so far, exciting. Indeed, since we created out website and Facebook page, we are getting a steady trickle of requests by people near and far asking if they can be on the program. The festival would be twice as big if we accepted half these requests. For the moment, securing the venue has proved to be extremely challenging, as New York is notoriously expensive, and we needed a space that would accommodate multiple simultaneous panels and hundreds of participants over two days. The keynotes alone could draw thousands. Organizers also had to secure visas for the participants coming from abroad, as well as tend to air travel and lodging. Still, Palestine Writes 2020, which we anticipate is the first annual such festival, is shaping up beautifully.
The festival organizers have raised some of the money necessary for this project, but still need a large sum to make it as memorable as it can and should be. Please donate.
Editor’s Note: Mondoweiss is proud to be a sponsor of Palestine Writes.