Palestinian and Northern Irish fiction writers and scholars gather in Oxford

With the support of the Middle East Centre, Bayan Haddad (George Antonius Birzeit Visiting Fellow) organised a symposium titled Approaching Raw Wounds: the rhetoric of trauma in Palestinian and Northern Irish fiction writing at St Antony’s College on 12 June, bringing together writers and scholars from Palestine and Northern Ireland. This trans-national symposium was the culmination of her Visiting Fellowship here at the Middle East Centre.

A synopsis of the day from Bayan Haddad

Professor Eugene Rogan welcomed those in attendance and gave an overview of the Birzeit George Antonius Visiting Fellowship. Bayan Haddad then introduced the theoretical frameworks and key ideas that were to be explored in the workshop. Dr Stephen O’Neill, Research Fellow at Trinity College Dublin’s School of English, gave a brief cultural history of partition in Ireland, with an eye on the comparison with Palestine before giving the floor to the writers to share their literary strategies for communicating traumatic experiences in their writing.

In the first panel, Palestinian writer and poet, Ahlam Bsharat, shared her lived experience and writing as a way of being. She also touched upon the nuances in translation from Arabic to English. Novelist and poet from Derry, Susannah Dickey, then discussed colonial time and its relationship to the modern novel. She shared her own writing experience and texts that resist the ideas of the linearity or neutrality of time. Finally, short story writer and teacher from East Belfast, Wendy Erskine, highlighted her thought process as a writer by breaking down examples from her own writing.

Bayan Haddad, St Antony’s George Antonius Birzeit Visiting Fellow, addresses participants at the Approaching Raw Wounds symposium

The second panel, conducted via Zoom, included Bekriah Mwasi, Palestinian writer, translator, and artist, who shared her experience of navigating language as a writer and translator and her attempts to highlight what tends to be overlooked. Also on the panel was Michael Magee, an Irish writer whose debut book won the 2023 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. He spoke about the authorial decisions and writing process of his award-winning first novel, Close to Home, and shared an excerpt of his writing.

On the last panel was Ahmed Masoud, Palestinian writer, director and academic, who read parts of his play, The Shroud Maker, and shared experiences of how his work is being received. Dave Coates, poetry critic, editor, and essayist from Belfast, shed light on The Sun is Open by Gail McConnell as a historical document and a unique contribution to the canon of poetry from the North of Ireland.

The symposium was drawn to an end by Nora Parr, Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham. She gave concluding remarks about the conversations, including the use of the term ‘trauma’ and perspectives on fragmentation. The audience then took part in commenting on the conversations as well as asking questions.

The Birzeit George Antonius Visiting Fellowship

The Birzeit George Antonius Visiting Fellowship was established through the generosity of Soraya Antonius in memory of her father, a Lebanese historian, author and diplomat. It was created to support scholars in the humanities and social sciences from Birzeit University, allowing them to spend up to six months in Oxford for their research. Bayan Haddad, an instructor in the Department of English Language and Literature at Birzeit University, was awarded the Visiting Fellowship to work on a comparative literary reading of Northern Ireland and Palestine. She has now reached the end of her Visiting Fellowship and will be returning to Birzeit this summer. The Middle East Centre is looking forward to welcoming the next Birzeit George Antonius Visiting Fellow in January 2025.

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