MEMO's award season got under way last night in front of a packed gathering in London who helped launch the 8th Palestine Book Awards. The audience at the pre-launch event for MEMO's flagship event, were treated to an engaging conversation with this year's shortlisted authors who discussed their works ahead of the winners' announcement this evening.
Chaired by Professor Karma Nabulsi, senior lecturer in political theory at the University of Oxford, six of the seven shortlisted authors reflected on their work and fielded questions about their books.
For the first time in the award's history, each of the books was twinned with a collection from the Palestinian History Tapestry with panels on display depicting the history of the land of Palestine. Some of the beautifully crafted tapestries by Palestinian women from within and outside the occupied territory created a setting befitting any celebration of art and literature.
This year's shortlisted authors are:
- Nabil Anani – Palestine, Land and People
- Noura Erakat – Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine
- Isabella Hammad – The Parisian
- Islah Jad – Palestinian Women's Activism: Nationalism, Secularism, Islamism
- Yasmin Khan – Zaitoun: Recipes and Stories from the Palestinian Kitchen
- Andrew Ross – Stone Men: The Palestinians Who Built Israel
- Nadia Yaqub – Palestinian Cinema in the Days of Revolution
The evening was kicked off by the trustee of Palestine Book Awards, Victoria Britain. Her remarks expressed delight at the awards success, which since its launch in 2012, has morphed into one of the most anticipated events of the year related to Palestine.
Nabulsi continued the celebratory mood and opened the discussion by praising the "range, depth and excellence" of this year's entries. She explained the way in which the event served a greater cause by highlighting how works of contemporary literature on Palestine advanced social cultural, moral and intellectual progress.
Speaking first about her work and the inspiration for her book, human rights attorney and Assistant Professor at George Mason University, Noura Erakat expressed her desire to offer a new approach to understanding the Palestinian struggle for freedom; a cause she says that has been failed by the international system. She recounted a theme from her book: the parallel between the struggle of the Palestinian people and other indigenous populations across the world. Ending Israel's occupation of Palestine, she explained, was the "collective struggle" of people across the world denied their basic human rights.
Islah Jad, an associate professor in the Cultural Studies Department and the Institute for Women's Studies at Birzeit University in Palestine, traced her own journey and the many stories of heroism she encountered that inspired her to publish her volume on Palestinian women.
Shedding light on a topic that has received little to no attention motivated Andrew Ross, professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, to publish his work on the "Palestinians who built Israel." His book "Stone Men" is an engrossing and somewhat surprising take on how the ancient Palestinian trade of stone masonry has served Israel's colonial agenda.
Nadia Yaqub gave the audience an insight into her work, which is an in-depth study of films made between 1968 and 1982. The professor of Arabic language and culture produced a unique volume on the cultural context within which movies were produced and their impact on the wider refugee community.
Considered by many as a key founder of the contemporary Palestinian art movement, Nabil Anani spoke of the ways in which art plays a huge and important role in the Palestinian movement.
"The Parisian" author, Isabella Hammad, who joined the London audience through Skype, described her journey in navigating the research for her novel which delicately untangles the politics and personal tragedies of a turbulent era – the Palestinian struggle for independence, the strife of the early twentieth century under the looming shadow of the Second World War. She told the audience that, for her, it was important to end the story before the Nakba because so much of Palestinian history is traced back to the period in history when Palestinians were forced from their homes but little is said about their lives prior to this.