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Hay Festival Returns to Beirut, Defying Tension with Syria

By Olivia Snaije

The dynamic Hay Festival, which besides its annual event in Wales now runs 15 literature and art events world-wide in countries such as Columbia, Kenya or Hungary, is back in Lebanon this week to run a three-day festival. Two years ago Hay organized the Beirut39 project that brought together 39 successful writers of Arab heritage under the age of 39.

Despite the underlying tension in Lebanon due to the violence in Syria just several hours away, more than 50 authors, journalists, artists, bloggers and thinkers will convene to share stories and ideas.

Some of the authors who were present at Beirut39, such as poets and novelists Hyam Yared and Najwan Darwish, are returning to Hay’s Beirut Festival along with an impressive roster of writers. Yared will talk about literature with writer Mathias Enard, whose 500-plus-page novel, Zone, written in a single sentence was published in English in 2010.

Mansoura Ez Eldin, Habib Selmi and Khaled Khalifa — all three finalists for the International Prize for Arabic fiction — will discuss literature, the role of writers and recent social and political change in their countries. Jon Lee Anderson, Robin Yassin-Kassab and Åsne Seierstad will examine putting war into words, while graphic novelists and cartoonists Zeina Abirached, Judith Vanistendael and Mazen Kerbaj will talk about the relationship between words, images and autobiographical content.

Award-winning young writers Paolo Giordano and Miguel Syjuco will discuss narrative fiction and will also take part in storytelling slam held at Zico House, which groups together various artistic and cultural programs in Beirut. The rest of the program will take place at the Beirut Art Center. Events will be held in English, French and Arabic.

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