Book Launch Stirs Controversy.
The book launch event for EXTRAORDINARY RENDITION: AMERICAN WRITERS ON PALESTINE at the Center for Fiction on Friday, 4 December in Manhattan was a resounding success. Extraordinary Rendition brings together the work of sixty-five prominent writers to examine America’s culpability in the denial of human rights and dignity to Palestinians in Israel/Palestine and beyond. Unfortunately as part of the Muslim backlash as reported by Nancy Kricorian prior to the event the Center had received a number of complaints from people who did not like the title of the book. The word Palestine appears to have been the problem.
Noreen Tomassi, the Executive Director of The Center for Fictions said: “I’ve received some very angry, very cutting email from the very powerful about the event we are having next Friday, ‘American Writers on Palestine.’ And I’m not sure what I feel about this or how to react, if at all. I truly believe The Center should be a place where writers I respect can speak to issues and I welcomed the request from a group of writers to provide that space for them to do so. I did so in this case because I am, in my heart of hearts, an absolute pacificist, who abhors the killing of innocent people who seem worldwide to be constantly and needlessly caught in the crossfire of political factions, political extremists. There are ground rules, of course, at The Center–no hate speech of any kind, no broad generalizations about groups of people, no antisemitism, no anti-Muslim or anti-Arab speech. No racism. My home, my rules. Still, I feel distressed by the level of anger. And exhausted by it.”
A friend of mine suggested that we mobilized other activists to make calls in support of the event. So we sent out an invite to our activist lists, including the above note from Noreen Tomassi and a message from an activist friend: I just called The Center for Fiction at [phone number] and thanked them for their courage in the face of those who don’t want this event to go forward, especially since I’m sure that they have been bombarded with anger and ignorance. The person who answered was very appreciative of my call and admitted that most of what they’ve gotten is negative. I think a quick call from folks (even if they don’t plan to attend) would go a long way to making the Center even more resolute in their values and principles. Maybe spread the word – not to inundate them with long diatribes about Zionism, but just to show a little solidarity and appreciation. My call was all of three minutes, if that, and was well received.
Before the reading I spoke with the Center’s Executive Assistant who told me that the supportive calls had outpaced the negative ones by 10-1. She said, “It was so important for us to hear from those people.” This is something we should remember, especially for mainstream United States cultural venues wading into the difficult waters of Palestine solidarity for the first time.
By the time the event started, the venue was jammed. All the seats were taken and there were people standing in the back. There writers presented a range of voices and genres, and the audience was also a diverse group, ranging from our activist friends to people who had come to see some of the more famous authors, such as Colum McCann, as well as other authors in attendance Sinan Antoon, Nathalie Handal, Lawrence Joseph, Nancy Kricorian, Rickey Laurentiis, Jason Schneiderman, Tom Sleigh, and Tiphanie Yanique.
The EXTRAORDINARY RENDITION: AMERICAN WRITERS ON PALESTINE an anthology also includes pieces by other writers such as Chana Bloch, Jane Hirshfield, Roger Reeves, George Saunders and Alice Walker. In writing that is always clear, and often startlingly beautiful, they cover a range of issues including the erasure and reconstruction of histories, the examination of identity, the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of speaking out as artists, the conditions of occupation, and the potential for activism. They also explore the way U.S. foreign policy towards Palestine regularly mirrors the harsh realities faced by many of America’s own minorities.
The anthology as a whole counters the dehumanizing narrative about Palestine that has taken hold in the United States, often supported by mainstream news organizations, and makes a significant contribution toward an understanding of the ways people of conscience in general, and writers in particular, can take on one of the most pressing political questions of our time.
By all reports people enjoyed the program. And it was terrific that Palestine was the focus in an established New York City literary venue.
Center for Fiction is housed in a building considered to be one of the most beautiful and welcoming spaces in New York by members and guests, our historic building was built in 1932, designed by acclaimed architect Henry Otis Chapman. Our 8-story “boutique” building features our bookshop on the ground floor, our beautiful second floor reading room and event space, open stacks on our fourth and fifth floors, The Roger Shattuck archive and a new book group and screening room space on the 6th floor, and the Writers’ Studio and Writers’ Library on our skylit 8th floor. Stop by for a visit!
The Center for Fiction, founded in 1820 as the Mercantile Library, is the only organization in the United States devoted solely to the vital art of fiction. The mission of The Center for Fiction is to encourage people to read and value fiction and to support and celebrate its creation and enjoyment. With all our resources, including our exceptional book collection, our beautiful reading room, our expanding website, and our ever-growing array of creative programs, we seek to serve the reading public, to build a larger audience for fiction, and to create a place where readers and writers can share their passion for literature
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