Leading writers, academics and cultural operators, including Ahdaf Soueif, Suzanne Joinson, Stephanos Stephanides, Haim Bresheeth, Cécile Oumhani, and Yosefa Loshitzky, will be in Malta on Thursday 11th April to talk about the role of literature in times of revolution and social upheaval. Ahdaf Soueif will also do a public reading in the evening at the University Valletta Campus at 7.00pm.
Malta will be hosting the biennial Forum Mare Nostrum of the European Writers’ Council for the first time on Thursday. The theme of the VIIth edition of this major event that brings together leading figures from the world of literature from Europe and the Mediterranean proposed by L-Akkademja tal-Malta (the Maltese Language Academy) is Discourse/Disorder, and will explore how literature narrates revolution and social upheaval, and sometimes inspires it.
The Forum, which is open to the general public, will be held at the Grand Hotel Excelsior in Floriana on Thursday 11th April, from 8.30am till 3.30pm. The Akkademja tal-Malti represents Malta in the EWC. 41 delegates of the EWC from all over Europe will be participating in this year’s edition.
After the forum, there will be a public encounter with Ahdaf Soueif at 7.00pm in which she will be interviewed by Prof. Stella Borg Barthet in a “Mediterranean Encounter” about her literary works and activism. This event is being held at the Auditorium of the Valletta Campus of the University in St Paul’s Street. This event is hosted by the Akkademja tal-Malti in collaboration with the Department of Maltese in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Malta and is also open to the general public.
One of the guest speakers of this Malta edition of the Forum Mare Nostrum is the acclaimed Egyptian-British novelist Ahdaf Soueif, who will be reading from her latest book, Cairo: my City, our Revolution, during the morning session of the Forum. Dr Soueif will be discussing this book and her reflections on revolution and the “disorder” inherent in the “act” of literature with the writer and academic Dr Adrian Grima, from the Department of Maltese at the University of Malta, and with the audience.
The high-profile list of speakers and panelists also includes Haim Bresheeth and Yosefa Loshitzky from the University of London (SOAS), the poet and academic Stephanos Stephanides from the University of Cyprus, Kenza Sefrioui (France-Morocco), Adel Bishtawi (Palestine-UK), Cécile Oumhani (France), Karsten Xuereb (Malta), poet Simone Inguanez (Malta) and Clare Vassallo, Albert Gatt and Marco Galea from the University of Malta. Also taking part are the Maltese writer of Palestinian-Jordanian origin, Walid Nabhan, and the English novelist and cultural operator, whose novel A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar, published by Bloomsbury, has been described as “an impressive debut” and “thrilling” by the New York Times, and has already been translated into many languages.
Literature, Film and Social Strife
Another highlight of the Forum is the showing of parts of the documentary film, London is Burning (2012), on the August 2011 London riots, by Prof. Haim Bresheeth, who teaches at the renowned School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London. The film features a number of key activists and social theorists in conversation about this painful social event, and raises questions about the police and its communal concept and about the crisis of capitalism, and its corrosive effects on society and its moral values.
Prof. Yosefa Loshitzky, who also teaches at SOAS, will talk about “Popular Cinema as Popular Resistance: Avatar in the Palestinian (Imagi)nation.” The proposed paper argues that while Avatar is a spectacular Hollywood blockbuster, and as such, seems to lie comfortably within the boundaries of the dominant Capitalist/Imperialist ideology, a close analysis of the film may uncover a secondary text which allows it to be read as subverting, or at least challenging, this ideology from within.
Dr Marco Galea will give the first plenary talk of the forum, introducing the theme “Discourse/Disorder,” while the poet and academic from the University of Cyprus Prof. Stephanos Stephanides, will speak about “The Disorder of Discourse.” He will be followed by the novelist and cultural operator Suzanne Joinson who will speak about “The Medina and the Architecture of Light: bridging the stories of East and West, a writer’s perspective.”Stephanos Stephanides
A panel discussion at 11.45am, about “Translation Disorder,” chaired by Dr Clare Vassallo, will feature UK-Palestinian writer Adel Bishtawi, linguist and literary translator Dr Albert Gatt, and Maltese-Palestinian novelist Walid Nabhan. A second panel discussion, starting at 2.30pm and chaired by Dr Simone Inguanez, will deal with “Righting the Mediterranean.” The panelists are Dr Karsten Xuereb, an expert on cultural relations between Europe and the Mediterranean, French poet and novelist Prof. Cécile Oumhani, and French-Moroccan cultural operator Kenza Sefrioui.
Ahdaf Soueif’s engaging but fast-moving account of the (ongoing) revolution that has swept Egypt off its feet, is a very authentic personal narrative that however manages to focus on the protagonists of these epochal events rather than on the writer herself. It is about the shabab, the brave young men and women behind the revolution, and the shuhada, those who died for their freedom and dignity, to reclaim their country.
Cairo: My City, Our Revolution is written with the perceptive eyes and uncompromsing honesty of a political and cultural analyst and the passion of a Cairene. It is written in the rich literary prose that readers worldwide have come to expect from an author who, with now classical works like The Map of Love, has made a name for herself as one of the best novelists around.
Soueif’s book about Cairo is about the revolution that started on January 25th 2011, but it is also, perhaps more, about the long, difficult process of turning this painful revolution into a longterm reality for one of the most important countries of the Arab world, and the Mediterranean. She writes with verve about the “tired tactics of the Mubarak era” that are still “very much in play,” about “the attempts to sow division, to make people afraid of each other, of foreigners, of ‘outside forces’, of ‘infiltrators’, the harping on the need for ‘stability’, the need to not frighten investors, to not ‘sully’ Egypt’s image abroad, the need to respect the state and its instruments.”
Her words sound as a warning to us too, who are often beseiged by this discourse by the mainstream media in the so-called free and democratic West. Her words remind us that there are many voices to be heard, and that we have to make an effort to listen to them, because they are not often freely accessible.
Open to the Public
The Forum Mare Nostrum of the European Writers’ Council is being convened by the Akkademja tal-Malti and supported by the Maltese Ministry of Finance, Malta Tourism Authority, European Writers’ Council, Authors Licensing and Collecting Society, French Embassy in Malta, European Commission Representation in Malta, British Council, Bloomsbury, Marsovin, and the St John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation.
University students, academics, writers, and members of the general public who would like to attend the daylong Forum Mare Nostrum are to contact Carmel Azzopardi at email@example.com. There is a registration fee of 30 EUR for the Forum for coffee and lunch.
Entrance to the 7.00pm Mediterranean Encounter with Ahdaf Soueif interviewed by Stella Borg Barthet in the Auditorium of the University Valletta Campus in St Paul’s Street, Valletta, is completely free and does not require registration.