Benjamin Moser in Urubuquaquá:
Five years ago this month, I attended the Palestine Festival of Literature, an initiative of the Egyptian writer Ahdaf Souief. She is one of the people I admire the most in this world—a kind woman, a wonderful writer, and someone who has found a way to do something many artists wish we could do, or wish we could do better: make some impact in the “real world,” which is to say: in real people’s lives.
Because here’s the thing. Compared to the real world of banks and armies and governments, your little novel, your evocative sculpture, your lachrymose ballad, will never really feel that important.
It’s true that we do these things because, in a way we can’t quite articulate, we feel that books and paintings and songs are more important than banks or armies or governments: that in some mysterious way, art and ideas move the world. We believe this, but it always feels grandiose, since the results are so hard to see.
I don’t know any writer who has devoted as much of her time and energy to activism as Ahdaf has. At PalFest, international writers—mainly from the English-speaking world—come together with Palestinian and Arab writers. That could happen in Lyon or Berkeley or Milan or, these days, on Zoom. But what’s unique about PalFest is that it shows you the situation. And the situation is very hard to see, even for people who want to.