Palestine Writes and the Politics of Language

Palestine Writes literature festival (Philadelphia, September 2023) offered a rich space to vocalize and vitalize the multitude of Palestinian experiences across historical Palestine and throughout the shatat, and to broaden our commitments as Palestinians in literature and beyond. The festival, bravely held despite a vicious and prolonged attack to defund it and suppress its voices, hosted a multitude of literary and scholarly voices that addressed questions of collectivity, creativity, and fragmentation, with the politics of language, translation, and audience being a recurring theme for panelists. From investigating the potentialities of writing exile, displacement, and critique to the realities of translating Palestine, the festival identified the urgency of themes such as (mis)translation and bilingualism, and the role linguistic subversion plays in inhabiting and inscribing Palestine across cultures. The festival, and despite the general absence of a cohesive inquiry into the question of Palestinian literature written not by, or for, Anglophones, has nonetheless stirred conversations about national-symbolic and thematic clichés, the (re)creation of Palestine through language, the conditions of writing in/ from exile, and the collectivity of the Palestinian wound. In this review, Ahmad Abu Ahmad interrogates the linguistic realities for Palestinian authorship and their audience, and invites us to rethink the relationship between Palestinians, their lived experiences, and language.

Author biography: 

Ahmad Abu Ahmad is a PhD candidate in comparative literature at Brown University, and holds a BA in English and an LLB from Tel Aviv University. His research examines the politics of linguistic and (inter)cultural contact zones and the poetics of death in Palestinian literature and film, and investigates the intersections of memory, speech acts, and space. He is invested in questions of sovereignty and violence in the project of settler-colonial state-building, in addition to his work across the modern and classical Arabic literary traditions more broadly.