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Robert Sharp

Palestine +100 Imagines Many Possible Futures

Screw Roland Barthes: if ever the identity of the author mattered to how a piece of literature is understood, it matters to Palestine +100.

The nationality of the authors in this collection is relevant for several reasons. First, because this book is (according to the publisher) the first ever anthology of Palestinian Science Fiction. But it matters also because this collection is an important statement on how Palestinian artists see themselves, and how they view their national prospects in the decades to come.

The premise of the book is a simple one. A dozen authors are invited to write a story set one hundred years after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. During the creation of that new country, more than 700,000 Palestinians were forced to flee their homes, an event that they and their descendants have come to know as the Nakba (‘catastrophe’). This was the event that created refugee camps all over the Levant, and in turn a sense of the Palestinian ‘right of return’ to the homes they left behind. This concept haunts every negotiation between Palestinian representatives and the Israeli government… and it looms large in this collection too.

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The Outliers: A Tribute to Writers Who Refuse To Stay Silent

Have you ever been stood up by Cory Doctorow? I have. Back in 2010 I was due to interview him at the London Book Fair about his latest novel For The Win. I read his entire back catalogue and planned loads of insightful questions, but when the time came for the interview in the PEN Literary cafe, he didn’t show up. Later, I received an e-mail from him with a preposterous and obviously made-up excuse about how his plane had been grounded by a volcano. So it was me on the stage with an empty chair. (My hastily written chat standard performance poem “The Empty Chair a.k.a Cory Doctorow Is Not Here Today” rocked YouTube, with literally dozens of views.)

Cory’s ash smudged seat was reminiscent of an old PEN tradition. At official meetings and during the annual congress, writers share the stage with an empty chair to symbolise and remember those writers who are absent. They may be in prison, or in exile, or in hospital, or in a grave, because of what they have written. Banned books week is the perfect time to remember these missing authors and poets.

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Series: Banned Books Week 2013

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