On October 29th, the Arab British Centre hosted Selma Dabbagh, Jehan Bseiso, Farah Chamma and Ahmed Masoud, who came together to talk about what memory means to them as Palestinian writers.
Behind the headlines and milestones and tweets, there are people and stories and morning rituals. There are memories and details so resilient they pass from one generation to another, they cross borders and traverse checkpoints to be captured in poems and plays, novels, art pieces and a whole tableau of rich and vibrant life.
The evening began with Selma Dabbagh first talking to us about being a “watered down Palestinian” and yet insisting on Palestinianness as a corrective to the idea that history belongs to the victors, and as a form of resistance to the erasure of the Palestinian narrative. Dabbagh then read a passage from her novel Out of It, featuring Jibreel, a once member of the PLO who would like to forget, but who, even when he attempts to leave the PLO, is still seen as part of the organisation.
Jehan Bseiso read several of her poems, including one addressed to her grandfather, and two parts of a four part series on Gaza, from which several striking lines, including “international law is clearly only for internationals,” visibly resonated with the audience.
One more of Bseiso’s readings here.
Farah Chamma took to the stage next and with boundless energy proceeded to perform several poems, including one written when she was 18 (which she “read” without reference to anything written down!). Her poems moved fluidly between Arabic and English, and in one case also French. She spoke about writing in Arabic as a struggle, given that her languages of education were English and French, but one she insisted on as one way of resistance.
Finally, Ahmed Masoud read a passage from his forthcoming book “Come what may” and talked to us about writing about Gaza as someone who grew up there, writing about the scents, the food, the beach, the precise locations of places, and naming those places, so that he can take people who have never been and can never go there with him through the text.
In their own ways, all four of these writers take us “there,” where there is not necessarily a physical place called Palestine, but a space where personal memories and inherited stories meet with the symbols and myths that are part of an ongoing cultural memory.