Bill V. Mullen & Malini Johar Schueller
Mondoweiss / July 18, 2023
The Palestine Writes Literature Festival returns in September to celebrate Palestinian literature and culture and end the silencing of Palestinian cultural workers.
Palestinians are the indigenous people of the land between the Mediterranean and Jordan, where they’ve inhabited its cities and villages continuously for millennia. In fact, Palestinian cities are among the oldest in the world. Jericho and Gaza, for example, date back to 10,000 BCE. The name Palestine in some form have appeared in books and maps at least since 1297 BCE.
This ancient society formed a distinct culture, with specific material culture ranging from folklore, architecture, songs, designs, artisan crafts, pottery, traditional clothing, cuisine, and more. And like all peoples, Palestinian society passed though many identities and languages through the ages.
Today, Palestinians write in Arabic, English, French, German, Dutch, and many other languages; their literature speaks to the diversity of Palestinians and yet, their shared experiences of the rich culture of the homeland, loss, yearning, and resistance.
Yet for too long, the story of Palestinians has been told by others, and Palestinian voices have been excluded or tokenized. Palestine Writes 2023, a global celebration of Palestinian literature and culture, seeks to reverse this isolation and silencing of Palestinian cultural workers.
Novelist Susan Abulhawa, the executive director of the festival, explains: “We are an indigenous people with an ancient past that is mostly untold (or rather, unheard), and only we can tell her native stories. So we are, and will always be. Palestine Writes is about radical truth-telling; about community and agency and joy; about friendship and the redemption of history; it is about gathering our shattered family on a terrain of our glorious heritage, and our collective anguish.”
The festival will take place in September 2023 at the University of Pennsylvania, where it is sponsored by multiple university departments and student groups, including the Wolf Humanities Center, the Kelly Writer’s House, Cinema Studies, and more.
Although the festival officially opens on Friday, September 22, there will be multiple events in the lead-up to opening day. The program will feature renowned writers and intellectuals like Viet Thanh Nguyen, Ibrahim Nasrallah, Dena Takruri, Ghada Karmi, Elias Khoury, Marc Lamont Hill, Zukiswa Wanner, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Isabella Hammad, Sahar Mustafa, Hala Alyan, and many more.
Among the panels at the Festival will be sessions on “Translating Culture,” “Palestine and the Global South,” “Third Identity: Writing, Immigration and Exile,” “The Cost and Reward of Friendship,” and “Publishing Palestine in Mainstream.”
In addition to panel and plenary discussions, the festival will include “Coffee and Book” interviews, continuous children’s programming (‘Storytime with authors, crafts, songs, treasure hunt), oral storytelling in the ancient “hakawati” tradition, writing workshops, presentations, and more.
The festival will also debut the new Palestine Writes Press with its first publication. The book, Ghassan Kanafani, is a memoir by Kanafani’s wife and political partner Ani Kanafani.
Palestine Writes Press is under the direction of Palestinian novelist and Festival organizer Susan Muaddi Darraj. The Festival will feature a special session dedicated to the book and Kanafani’s legacy, “Seeking Ghassan Kanafani,” with Bashir Abu Manneh and Louis Allday. Palestine Writes will also celebrate Palestinian visual art and paintings of Palestinian writers by local Philadelphia artist Brice Patterson.
There will be dabke, music, poetry, prose, film, art, photography, and so much more, such as traditional, plant-based Palestinian cuisine.
Palestine Writes is an incredible production, an intersectional space where Palestinian creatives will gather with friends from around the world, including such luminaries as Australian aboriginal writers Ali Cobby Eckermann, Karen Wyld, and Lorna Munro; Trinity Goombi-Guido, a member of the Lenni-Lenape tribes of the Delaware nation; South African writer Zukiswa Wanner; Philadelphia-based writer Marc Lamont Hill; Pulitzer Prize winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen; award-wining journalist Gary Younge, and musician Roger Waters.
Tickets for the Festival are going fast. More than 300 have already been sold. For more information or to register or buy a ticket for the Festival go to: palestinewrites.org.
Bill V. Mullen is Professor Emeritus of American Studies at Purdue; he is the author of James Baldwin: Living in Fire (Pluto Press) and co-editor with Ashley Dawson of Against Apartheid: The Case of Boycotting Israeli Universities (Haymarket Books); he is a member of the Organizing Collective for the United States Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
Malini Johar Schueller is a professor in the Department of English at the University of Florida; she has been the faculty advisor Students for Justice in Palestine on her campus for many years and is a member of the organizing collective for the United States Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.