American Writers on Palestine Event Reportback

By Nancy Kricorian

The book launch event at the Center for Fiction on Friday, 4 December in Manhattan was a resounding success. The Center had received a number of complaints from people who did not like the title of the book, which is EXTRAORDINARY RENDITION: AMERICAN WRITERS ON PALESTINE. The word Palestine appears to have been the problem. We sent out an invite to our activist lists, including a note from Noreen Tomassi, the Executive Director of The Center for Fiction: 

"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."

An activist friend then circulated this message:

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. 

My friend's suggestion mobilized other activists, who made the calls. 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. By all reports people enjoyed the program. And it was terrific that Palestine was the focus in an established New York City literary venue.


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