Last Updated: Thu Apr 14, 2011 14:33 pm (KSA) 11:33 am (GMT)

Palestine Literature Festival aims to promote Arab authors internationally

Visitors to PalFest last year browse books on sale. (File photo)
Visitors to PalFest last year browse books on sale. (File photo)

The fourth Palestine Festival of Literature (PalFest) begins Friday for five days during which it will travel to Jerusalem, Nazareth, Nablus, Jenin, Bethlehem, Ramallah, al-Khalil/Hebron, and Silwan.

A host of celebrated authors are expected to take part in readings and discussions including Mohammad Hanif, author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes, academic Ghada Karmi, British broadcaster John McCarthy, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Lorraine Adams, and the Oscar-nominated American screenwriter Richard Price.

The founder and chairperson of the festival, Ahdaf Soueif—who has been long-listed for Britain’s prestigious Man Booker Prize—said: “At a time when the spectacular push for freedom in the Arab world is capturing the world's attention, it is particularly important for PalFest to continue to travel to its audiences, imprisoned behind checkpoints; to work with its bookseller, threatened with deportation, and to forge creative links between Palestine and the world.”

Ahdaf Soueif, founder of PalFest

Ms. Soueif was referring to Munther Fahmi, a popular bookseller in Jerusalem, who may be deported for overstaying his tourist visa. Mr. Fahmi is not a tourist but like many Palestinian Jerusalemites, his family refused Israeli citizenship and took permanent residence, which was revoked for Mr. Fahmi when he lived abroad for more than is required by law.

He has been living on tourist visa extensions but now faces deportation; his presence at PalFest amongst international luminaries may keep his case alive in the media and, hopeful, influence Israeli authorities.

Literature festivals don’t just attract writers, avid readers and booksellers; the media too descend to report and broadcast. PalFest is no exception; it provides a platform for some of the most contentious and intellectually vigorous dialogue anywhere.

This year’s participant, Peter Florence, said: “PalFest is one of the most important festivals in the world. It plays an extraordinary role in telling truths that aren't heard. It strips the whole festival fandango to its core: writers and readers and stories and being together.”

He was echoing a sentiment expressed by Isobel Abulhoul, founder of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, when she welcomed more than 120 international authors to the event’s third anniversary gathering Dubai on March 8.

The Palestine festival is a good mix of English and Arabic language authors. Programs have been tailored to ensure that no one group dominates the festival. As it is open to the public, a diverse group of people, especially students, attend the programs and are given the opportunity to engage in lively discussions—not all of which have to do with academia or popular literature. Events also include a performance by the Palestinian National Opera, an open-microphone night, and a children’s festival.

Past participants of PalFest have included William Dalrymple, Najwan Darwish, Roddy Doyle, Esther Freud, Remi Kanazi, Pankaj Mishra, Hanan Al Shaykh and Michael Palin.

(Muna Khan of Al Arabiya can be reached at: muna.khan@mbc.net)

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