British Council holds Iraq's first international literature festival
07 May 2011
The British Council has organised the first international literature festival ever to be held in Iraq. The Erbil Literature Festival will take place from 7 to 9 May, and will bring some of the UK’s best contemporary writers together with Arabic and Kurdish writers from Iraq.
UK writers Tahmima Anam, Bee Rowlatt and Robin Yassin-Kassab will be joined at the festival by Arab Iraqi authors Ahmed Saadawi, Soheil Najim and Inaam Kachachi, and Kurdish Iraqi writers Sarkawt Rasul and Dr Nazand Begikhani.
The festival is designed to act as a catalyst for Iraq’s literary scene. It will feature a mixture of high-profile public readings and performances, seminars and discussions with local literary partners, and outreach events in Iraqi universities and communities. The writers will share their creative work and expertise, and enter into discussion and debate with fellow authors and audiences on themes including the diverse cultural and linguistic influences on contemporary writing, and what defines British and Iraqi literature.
The exciting programme will bring fresh literature works to new audiences, reinforcing the British Council’s mission to build trust and understanding between people from the Middle East and the UK. While it is taking place in the Kurdistan region, it will reach audiences across Iraq through Iraqi TV and radio – and emerging writers will be brought in by bus from Baghdad to participate.
Three leading figures from the UK and Iraqi literary worlds will chair the festival: Dr Rachel Holmes, Head of Literature and the Spoken Word at London’s Southbank Centre; Dr Fadhil Thamer, Head of the Iraqi Writers’ Union and prominent critic; and Dr. Himdad Abdulqahhar, Head of the English Language department at Salahaddin University.
Brendan McSharry, the British Council’s Country Director in Iraq, said: “This festival is all about celebrating and sharing good creative writing among a wide and diverse audience in a country that, for a long time, has been starved of the opportunity to do so.”
To organise the festival, the British Council has worked in partnership with a range of organisations across Iraq, including the National Library of Iraq, Salahaddin University, the Writers’ Union of Kurdistan and the Iraqi Writers’ Union.
For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Mark Moulding in the British Council Press Office on 0207 389 4889 or email@example.com
Notes to Editors
The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We work in over 100 countries worldwide to build opportunity and trust for the UK through the exchange of knowledge and ideas between people. We work in the Arts, English, Education and Society, including science and sport - and in the process contribute to the security and prosperity of the UK and the countries where we work. Last year we engaged face to face with 18.4 million people and reached 652 million. We are a non-political organisation which operates at arm’s length from government. Our total turnover in 2009/10 was £705 million, of which our grant-in-aid from the British government was £211 million. For every £1 of government grant we receive, we earn £2.50 from other sources. For more information, please visit: www.britishcouncil.org
About the writers:
Tahmima Anam was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh and attended Mount Holyoke College and Harvard University, where she earned a PhD in Social Anthropology in 2005. Her first novel A Golden Age was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Costa First Novel Prize, and was the winner of the 2008 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book. Her writing has been published in Granta, The New York Times, and the Guardian and her next novel The Good Muslim will be released by Harper Collins in August 2011. She lives in London.
Dr Nazand Begikhani (Sorbonne University) is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Bristol’s Centre for Gender and Violence Research. She has extensive experience in research on gender and violence, focusing on the Middle East and Kurdish communities. As well as being the Editor in Chief of the Kurdish language edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, Nazand is also an internationally recognized poet. She has published five poetry collections in Kurdish and Bells of Speech (2006) is her first collection in English. Her poetry has been translated into Arabic, French, Persian, German and English. She has participated in many international poetry festivals and has read her work on Radio 4 (Start the Week, Christmas Day 2006) and at the Houses of Parliament, May 2007. Dr Begikhani is currently leading the Gender and Violence Studies Centre at the University of Sulaimaniya, a project funded by the British Council.
Inaam Kachachi was born in Baghdad in 1952, studied journalism and has worked in the Iraqi press and radio. She moved to Paris in 1979 where she obtained a doctorate degree and worked as a journalist. She is presently the Paris-based correspondent of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper and Kol Al-Usra magazine. She has published two non-fiction books, Lorna, her years with Jawad Selim (Arabic, Dar el-Jadid, Beirut, 1998), and Paroles d’Irakiennes (French, Le Serpent à Plumes, 2003), and in 2004 made a 30-minute documentary film about Naziha Al Dulaimi, the Iraqi doctor who, in 1959, was the first woman to become a minister in an Arab country. Her debut novel Sawaqi al-Quloob [Streams of Hearts], was excerpted in the literary magazine Banipal 26 and published in 2005 by Al-Muassassa al-Arabiya lil-Nashr and translated to Italian (Baldini and castoldi). Inaam Kachachi's latest novel, Al-Hafeeda al-Amreekiya [The American Grand-daughter], (Dar el-Jadid, 2008) is the story of a young American of Iraqi origin named Zeina who has left her country as an adolescent and returns to it as a translator with the US occupation forces. The novel is also the story of Rahma, Zeina’s widowed grandmother, alone in Iraq after all her family has left the country. The novel was shortlisted for the 2008-09 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
Robin Yassin-Kassab was born in west London in 1969 to a Syrian father and an English mother. With the exception of six months in Beirut, he grew up in England and Scotland. He graduated from Oxford University and travelled extensively. He has lived and worked in London, France, Pakistan, Turkey, Syria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Oman. Robin Yassin-Kassab taught English around the Arab world as well as in Turkey and worked as a journalist in Pakistan before moving to Oman. He has recently returned to live in Scotland with his family. Robin Yassin-Kassab was shortlisted for the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award 2009 and the Glen Dimplex New Writers Awards 2008. His highly acclaimed first novel, The Road from Damascus (Hamish Hamilton 2008) is part multicultural family saga, part portrait of a marriage and part a novel of ideas. It is an extraordinary novel of love, religion and revolution. In his own words he himself describes the novel as addressing ‘ … problems of belief, immigration and belonging, and relationships’. It is set in multicultural London with a back story in Syria and Iraq.
Though not directly autobiographical, The Road From Damascus sees him and his protagonist Sami share parallels. Robin Yassin-Kassab is currently working on his second novel. He is also a co-editor and regular contributor to PULSE, recently listed by Le Monde Diplomatique as one of its five favourite websites.
Soheil Najim is an Iraqi poet and translator. Born in Baghdad in 1956, has published many books of poetry including Breaking The Phrase-Beirut-1994, Your Carpenter O Light-Damascus-2002, and No Paradise outside the Window –Baghdad -2008). He has translated many books of poetry, novels and criticism from English into Arabic, among them, Ted Hughes, Kazantzakis, Saramago, Alasdair Gray, Hilis Miller and Edward Said. He has also translated from Arabic into English three anthologies of Iraqi poetry published in Michigan, Austen and Baghdad.
Bee Rowlatt is a BBC World Service journalist. She has four kids and lives in London. The book Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad was conceived as a way to get her Iraqi friend May Witwit out to safety. It has been translated into numerous languages, and is currently being dramatised for TV and radio.
Ahmed Saadawi was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1973 and is a novelist, poet, painter and journalist. He was a correspondent for the BBC for a number of years and currently supervises a television program on the US-funded satellite channel, Al-Hurra. Saadawi has published four books of poetry and two novels and been featured in the Hay Festival’s anthology Beirut39. His novel Beautiful Country won first place in a literary competition held in the UAE.