The 2009 North African Reading Tour and Lecture Series: Tunis and Morocco

April 24—27, 2009

The tour, a mix of literary and cultural events, is intended as an opportunity for American writers to deepen their understanding of a country’s unique landscape, its political and cultural tensions, and its literary traditions. The literary events include encounters (readings, talks, class visits, teas) with English Language and Literature students and faculties, meetings with literary groups, and exchanges with publishers and journalists. The IWP provides a selection of texts in translation as well as interpreters at all events, so that the delegation may share their work with local audiences. We also encourage future collaborations between the delegation and their counterparts in the region.

This year’s Reading and Lecture Tour, made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, took a delegation of American writers to Tunis between April 24th and April 27th, and was then capped by several special events in Morocco in early May, following the 2009 Souk Ukaz international conference.

In Tunis, a highlight was the writers’ presentation and book signing at the Tunis International Book Fair. Other events included a reading and conversation with students in the Department of English at Université de la Manouba, and a visit with a Tunisian publisher as well as with local press. Between professional meetings the writers toured the capital, the Roman excavations at Carthage and the Great Kairouan Mosque.

A week later, following the 2009 Souk Ukaz in Morocco, the reading tour culminated with two additional events in Casablanca. There was a session of readings and vivid conversation with a large group of students of English and Translation Studies from three regional universities, coordinated by the Casablanca-based Fondation ONA. The writers also met, virtually, with a group of colleagues from Sarajevo. The topic of this digital video conference extended this year’s Souk Ukaz theme “Writing in and Beyond the City,” of prime importance to the Bosnian writers, all of whom had lived through the longest urban siege in modern history (1992-96). Their texts, prepared for the occasion, ranged from Haris Pasović's account of the ways in which cultural activities preserved the character of a city under siege to Ahmed Burić’s reply to the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert's widely-known poem "Report from a Besieged Capital." The Americans were particularly moved by the Bosnians' final offering, a poem-essay by Adisa Bašić, which draws warfare as it pervades the intimate affairs inside the plain cube of her beloved apartment building. The tour thus concluded with two extremes of a city’s fate: the destruction and resurrection of Sarajevo over and against the arduously preserved “sacred city” Fès.

Participating Writers:

Katie FORD is the author of Deposition and Colosseum, both published by Graywolf Press, and a chapbook, Storm, published by Marick Press. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Partisan Review, Seneca Review, Poets & Writers, Pleiades, and many other journals. A poetry editor of the New Orleans Review, she has taught at Loyola University, Reed College, and now at Franklin & Marshall College. She has received awards and grants from the Academy of American Poets, the PEN American Center, Harvard University, and the Lannan Literary Fellowship.

Barbara Ras is the author of the poetry collections Bite Every Sorrow, recipient of the Walt Whitman and the Kate Tufts Discovery awards; One Hidden Stuff, and The Last Skin, which won the Award for Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters; and the editor of a collection of short fiction in translation, Costa Rica: A Traveler’s Literary Companion. Her poems have appeared in the New Yorker, TriQuarterly, American Scholar, Massachusetts Review, Orion and elsewhere. A recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim and the Rockefeller foundations, Ras directs Trinity University Press in San Antonio.

The work of Mustapha TLILI includes For Nelson Mandela, co-edited with Jacques Derrida; among his novels La montagne du lion was short-listed for Prix Femina, and Un après midi dans le desert won the Tunisian Comar d’Or for 2008. His books have been widely translated and anthologized. Tlili is the founder of the Center for Dialogues, a research scholar at New York University, and fellow at its Remarque Institute. He has taught at Columbia U, was a fellow at the World Policy Institute, has served as a senior UN official, and is a member of Human Rights Watch’s Advisory Committee for the Middle East and North Africa.

Non-fiction, Translation

Eliot WEINBERGER’s literary writings include Works on Paper, Outside Stories, Written Reaction, Karmic Traces, The Stars, Muhammad, and An Elemental Thing. His political articles are collected in 9/12, What I Heard About Iraq, and What Happened Here: the Bush Chronicles. His work has been published in some thirty languages. He is the author of a study of Chinese poetry translation, the translator the exiled poet Bei Dao, and the editor of an anthology of classical Chinese poetry. His many translations from the Spanish include the work of Octavio Paz, Vicente Huidobro, Xavier Villaurrutia, and Jorge Luis Borges, and have earned him major awards for the promotion of Hispanic cultures and literatures. At the 2005 PEN World Voices Festival he was presented as a “post-national writer.” He lives in New York City.

Christopher MERRILL has published six books of poetry, including Watch Fire, which received the Lavan Younger Poets Award; many edited volumes and books of translations; and five works of nonfiction, among them, Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars and Things of the Hidden God: Journey to the Holy Mountain. His latest, The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War, chronicles his travels in Asia and the Middle East in the wake of the war on terror. His writings have been translated into twenty-five languages; his journalism appears widely. A member of the National Council on the Humanities and the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, he directs the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.

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