The 2009 North African Reading and Lecture Series: Tunis/Morocco/Sarajevo

April 23—May 5, 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, etc.) with English language and literature students and faculties, meetings with literary groups, and exchanges/mutual interviews with publishers and journalists. The IWP provides short translations, and 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 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. It was hosted by the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, and made possible by a grant from the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. In Tunis, a highlight was the writers’ presentations and book signing at the Tunis International Book Fair. Other events included a reading and conversation with students in the Department of English as Manouba University, 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.

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IWP writers with students and faculty at the ONA Foundation in Casablanca

A week later, following the first Souk Ukaz in Morocco, the reading tour culminated with two additional events in Casblanca. There was a session of readings and vivid conversation with a large group of students of English and Translation Studies from three regional universities, organized by the ONA Foundation. The writers also met, virtually, with a group of colleagues from Sarajevo. The topic of this digital video conference extended the theme of “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 (1992-1996). 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 famous poem, "Report from a Besieged Capital." The Americans were particularly moved by the Bosnians' final offering, a poem-essay by Adisa Basić, which drawas war pervading the intimate affairs inside the plain cube of her beloved appartment building. Thus the tour concluded with two extremes of a city’s fate: the destruction and resurrection of Sarajevo over and against the arduously preserved “sacred city of Fes”.

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Reading and Q&A at the ONA Foundation; Barbara Ras, Katie Ford and Christopher Merrill Mustapha Tlili, Kyoko Yoshida (Eliot Weinberger not in the frame)

2009 Tunis Reading and Lecture Tour Participants

Katie Ford is the author of Deposition and Colosseum, both published by Graywolf Press, and a chapbook, Storm, published by Marick Press. Colosseum was named a “Best Book of 2008” by Publishers Weekly, and one of the “Top 10 Poetry Books for 2008” by the Virginia Quarterly Review. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Paris Review, Ploughshares,  Partisan Review, Seneca Review, Poets & Writers, Pleiades, and many other journals.  She is Poetry Editor of the New Orleans Review. She has taught at Loyola University, Reed College, and now at Franklin & Marshall College. She also teaches, in the summer, at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and has guest lectured at programs around the country, including the low residency program at Bennington College.  She has received awards and grants from the Academy of American Poets, the Pen American Center, and Prairie Lights. She was an Iowa Arts Fellow while at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and received a scholarly award, the Hopkins Share Award, from Harvard University. In 2008, Ford received a Lannan Literary Fellowship.

Barbara Ras was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1949. Her first book of poems, Bite Every Sorrow, was chosen by C. K. Williams to receive the 1997 Walt Whitman Award and subsequently won the Georgia Author of the Year Award for poetry. In the spring of 2009 she became the recipient of a Guggenheim Award. Her work has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including Boulevard, Massachusetts Review, Prairie Schooner, and American Scholar. She has received the Ascher Montandon Award, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and honors from the National Writers Union, Villa Montalvo, San Jose Poetry Center, Spoon River Poetry Review, and others. She has traveled extensively in Latin America and lived for periods of time in Colombia and Costa Rica, and in 1994 she edited a collection of Costa Rican fiction in translation entitled Costa Rica: A Traveler's Literary Companion (Whereabouts Press).  She directs Trinity University Press in San Antonio, Texas.

Mustapha Tlili, a Knight of the French Order of Arts and Letters, is a well-established French-language novelist, published to high acclaim by Gallimard in Paris. His books include For Nelson Mandela, co-edited with Jacques Derrida, and the novel Lion Mountain, which was short listed in its original version for the prestigious French Prix Femina. His most recent novel, Un après midi dans le désert (Gallimard, April 2008), won the prestigious Tunisian literary award Comar d’Or.  His books have been translated in many languages, including English, Chinese, German, and Spanish; appeared in many anthologies of world literature; and form the subject of doctoral dissertations in various languages, including French, English and Russian.  Mustapha Tlili  is also the founder and director of the Center for Dialogues, a research scholar at New York University, and senior fellow at its Remarque Institute.  He has taught at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and was a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute of New School University. He is a former senior UN official, having served as director for communications policy in the United Nations Department of Public Information, director of the UN information center for France, located in Paris, and chief of the Namibia, Anti-Apartheid, Palestine and decolonization programs in the same department. He is also a member of Human Rights Watch’s Advisory Committee for the Middle East and North Africa.

Eliot Weinberger's books of literary writings include Works on Paper, Outside Stories, Written Reaction, Karmic Traces, The Stars, Muhammad, and the recent “serial essay,” An Elemental Thing. His work regularly appears in translation and has been published in some thirty languages.  His political articles are collected in 9/12, What I Heard About Iraq, and What Happened Here: Bush Chronicles, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award for criticism and selected for the Times Literary Supplement’s “International Books of the Year.” The Guardian (UK) said of What I Heard About Iraq: “Every war has its classic antiwar book, and here is Iraq’s.” It has been adapted into a prize-winning theater piece, two cantatas, two prize-winning radio plays, a dance performance, and various art installations; it has appeared on some 100,000 websites, and was read or performed in nearly one hundred events throughout the world on 20 March 2006, the anniversary of the invasion.  He is the author of a study of Chinese poetry translation, 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, the translator of Unlock by the exiled poet Bei Dao, and the editor of The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry, also a TLS “International Book of the Year.”  His many translations of the work of Octavio Paz include the Collected Poems 1957-1987, In Light of India, and Sunstone. Among his other translations are Vicente Huidobro's Altazor, Xavier Villaurrutia's Nostalgia for Death, and Jorge Luis Borges' Seven Nights. His edition of Borges’ Selected Non-Fictions received the National Book Critics Circle award for criticism.  In 1992, he was the first recipient of the PEN/Kolovakos Award for his promotion of Hispanic literature in the U.S.; in 2000, he became the only American literary writer to be awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle by the government of Mexico. At the 2005 PEN World Voices Festival, he was presented as a “post-national writer.” He lives in New York City.

Christopher Merrill. Director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Merrill’s books include four collections of poetry, Brilliant Water, Workbook, Fevers & Tides, and Watch Fire, for which he received the Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets; translations of Aleš Debeljak’s Anxious Moments and The City and the Child; several edited volumes, among them, The Forgotten Language: Contemporary Poets and Nature and From the Faraway Nearby: Georgia O’Keeffe as Icon; and four books of nonfiction, The Grass of Another Country: A Journey Through the World of Soccer, The Old Bridge: The Third Balkan War and the Age of the Refugee, Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars, and Things of the Hidden God: Journey to the Holy Mountain, which won the 2005 Kostas Kyriazis Award, Greece’s most prestigious journalism award. His work has been translated into twenty-five languages.

To extend the 2009 Souk Ukaz and Reading Tour in the Maghreb, its participants sat down in a studio in Casablanca to 'meet' with a group of writers from Sarajevo, a city that had suffered the longest siege in post-WWII history. Sharing their essays (posted below) and exchanging ideas 'live' through a video conferencing system were:

Sarajevo Video Conference Participants

To extend the 2009 Souk Ukaz and Reading Tour in the Maghreb, its participants sat down in a studio in Casablanca to 'meet' with a group of writers from Sarajevo, a city that had suffered the longest siege in post-WWII history. Sharing their essays (posted below) and exchanging ideas 'live' through a video conferencing system were:

Adisa Bašić studied Comparative Literature, German and Librarianship at the University of Sarajevo, publishing a first poetry collection at 19. She has participated in many regional and European poetry festivals and workshops, and is widely published in regional literary magazines. Her second poetry volume, Trauma-Market, appeared in 2004.  She writes on cultural affairs for the independent weekly “Slobodna Bosna.” - Little Cube, Sweet Little Concrete Cube

Ahmed Burić is a journalist, editor, translator, short fiction writer and a poet.  Author of two volumes of verse, he has also edited several volumes of short stories (including the two-volume  Hemonwood of the Bosnian-American writer Aleksandar Hemon) and of poetry.  He has also translated poetry and fiction, and participated in a number of documentaries and TV productions.  His  poetry, short fiction and essays appear widely in regional journals. At present he is the deputy editor of the Sarajevo daily "Oslobodjenje," and runs a regular column on - A Report After the Seige of the City

Poet, children's literature writer, and translator Ferida Duraković is the author of short prose and of six volumes of poetry including Heart of Darkness ( English translation from White Pine Press 1998.  Among her awards are The Award of the Literary Youth Organization of BiH, the Svjetlost Award, the Hellman-Hammet Fund for Free Expression Award, and the Vasyl Stus Freedom-to-Write Award by P.E.N. New England, USA.  Her poetry has been translated to English, Greek, Slovenian, Turkish, German and Finnish.  She is the Secretary of the PEN center of Bosnia-Herzegovina and lives in Sarajevo. - Writing In and Beyond the City

Haris Pašović has directed on key international stages and major theatre festivals in the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere in Europe; he has also written plays, including Rebellion at the National Theatre and  Bolero, Sarajevo, and adapted many drama classics. During the siege of Sarajevo he managed the city’s International Theatre Festival, producing among other plays also Susan Sontag’s staging of  Waiting for Godot; organized the first Sarajevo film festival, and directed several documentaries about the city at war. In 2005 he founded the East West Theatre Company.  He is a professor at the Performing Arts Academy in Sarajevo, and teaches arts management at the Bled School of Management in Slovenia - City the Engaged

Zvonimir Radeljković is professor of American and English literatures at the University of Sarajevo, director its partnership program with Smith College (USA), and a founding member of the Bosnian PEN. His publications include three books on American literature, including the 2006 collection American Topics, and many popular and scholarly articles on US cultural and literary topics. He writes extensively on American fiction ranging from 19th to 21st c.  His translations of Ezra Pound’s poetry won him the 2009 award from the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  - Cities in Literature

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