This was quite a literary week for me. It began with a book signing party for two of my very favorite writers, Betool Khedairi (see photo in post below) and Sahar Khalifeh (pictured in this post). Both women have new novels out, which I’ve been dying to read. The event was held at an Iraqi art gallery in Amman, Orfali, and it was sponsored by one of my favorite publishing houses, theAmerican University of Cairo Press. They have the best selection and best quality of Arabic literature in translation. The gallery was set up with posters of the book jackets displayed as art, which was entirely appropriate because their publications are as beautiful on the outside as their literature is beneath the covers. It was a bit disappointing that there was no reading or even any speaking by either Khedairi or Khalifeh, but it was lovely to meet them and speak with them, albeit briefly. But perhaps the most exciting thing was to see so many Jordanians, Iraqis, Palestinians, and internationals at a literary event buying quality literature. My next door neighbor often complains that Jordanians don’t read enough and the fact that this art gallery was swamped and that many of the people seemed like they were buying books is a promising sign indeed!
A few nights later I found out about another literary event, this time at another amazing Amman art gallery, Dar Al Anda, where Samar Jarrah was speaking. Jarrah is not a literary writer, but she’s doing important work with her book Arab Voices Speak to American Hearts. After 9/11 she went around to various Americans asking them what questions they wanted answered by Arab people. She brought those questions with her to Kuwait, Jordan, and Egypt and interviewed people using these questions as the guide. The result is the published book. I haven’t yet read it or even seen it because they didn’t have copies available, but her website definitely gives you a sense of what she’s trying to do. It seems that she’s working on a companion/sequel to this book by reversing it and asking Arab people in these same countries to pose questions to Americans. Two of my students came to the lecture, which was great since I’m teaching a graduate class at the University of Jordan called American and the Arabs. Jarrah is Palestinian-Jordanian-American so it was nice to have a speaker in town who is related to our coursework.
I ended the week by spending an entire day exploring the fabulous public libraries of Amman. First, I went to the Shoman Library across from the Iraqi embassy. The Shoman family owns the Arab Bank and seems to use a lot of their financial resources to do important community work like building this library. The collection seems to be extensive, in both English and Arabic, and perhaps other languages. I didn’t stay long because the children’s books, which is what I was looking for, were in storage. But then I went downtown to the Greater Amman Library and found a treasure house of children’s books and a fabulous knowledgeable children’s librarian who was able to help me find exactly what I needed. I was especially excited to see in person, for the first time, the series of books by Jordanian Palestinian writer Rouda Fakh El Hod.
My final excitement for the week was meeting Abu Ali. Abu Ali is a cultural treasure of Amman. He owns a bookstore downtown, though like many of the bookstores downtown it’s not actually a store. It’s more like an outdoor stall with books spread out on the street surrounding this kiosk-type of establishment. Abu Ali is famous for being really knowledgeable about books and periodicals of all kinds. In fact, he even gave me information to meet the writer whose books I discovered at the library. He’s such an institution that the New York Times even ran a story about him about a year go. It’s old enough that you have to purchase the story to read it, but I found a website that reproduced the same story for those who are interested in reading more about Abu Ali.