By Olivia Snaije
The third Palestine Festival of Literature begins May 1st and will run until May 6th, with international writers and artists traveling to the West Bank.
This young festival was created by Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif, British authors and journalists Victoria Brittain and Brigid Keenan, among others, in 2008 with the mission to bring writers and artists from around the world to Palestinian audiences, who for the most part are immobilized by an Israeli travel ban.
The festival, backed by various foundations including the British Council, requires stamina and flexibility on the part of the participants, who visit the cities of Jerusalem, Ramallah, Jenin, Hebron, Bethlehem and Nablus, often waiting for hours at checkpoints, and changing venues at the last minute.
The 2009 Festival opening celebration in the Palestine National Theatre in East Jerusalem was shut down by Israeli police and organisers had to move the event to the French Cultural Centre.
The authors and artists meet Palestinian writers and run workshops in refugee camps, universities and schools. This year art exhibitions and film screenings will be held with staged readings given by local artists in the various cities. All events are free. The past two festivals were considered a great success, in part because the visitors learned as much as their hosts.
The 2009 participants such as Roddy Doyle, Michael Palin and Claire Messud all wrote about their “eye-opening” experiences at the festival (including hiking with author and lawyer Raja Shehadeh, whose book “Palestinian Walks’’ won Britain’s Orwell Prize in 2008), and the goodwill involved.
This year the list of participants is no less august, with Adam Foulds, Geoff Dyer, Henning Mankell, Hisham Matar and Susan Abulhawa making the trip.
British author Philip Pullman and the actress Emma Thompson recently joined the Festival’s list of patrons, which includes Chinua Achebe, Seamus Heaney and the late Mahmoud Darwish and Harold Pinter. Pullman said of the festival:
“Carrying words from one mind to another is one of the most important things that human beings can do. Every literary act, whether its a great epic poem or an honest piece of journalism or a simple nonsense tale for children is a blow against the forces of stupidity and ignorance and darkness – and we should esteem them and treasure them and defend them all to the same degree. The Palestine Festival of Literature exists to do just that – and I salute it for its work. Not only this year but for as long as it’s necessary.”
CHECK OUT: The PalFest site for updates, blogs and videos.
READ: The Arab Literature in English blog, which has a nice summary of comments made recently by Ahdaf Soueif in Cairo recently.