The Fattoush Book Exhibition, which ran from April 3-8, was more than a simple book fair where city residents and visitors could come to buy the latest Arabic language publications. Organizers of the festival turned it into a space of collaboration between publishing companies across the Arab world, from Dar al-Ahlia in Oman to Dar al-Jamal of Beirut. Gathering publications from these various publishing houses, Fattoush brought over 1,000 Arabic texts to Haifa, many of which have never been available inside the Green Line. At night, different speakers brought the texts to life. Poets and storytellers closed out two nights of the festival, reading passages from their own texts and those of other writers. This book festival, though, has an importance beyond making texts accessible and enjoyable to an audience in Haifa; it serves as one example of how to confront problems within the Arab publishing industry.
Media outlets have been covering various entrepreneurs looking to solve issues of access to Arabic books; some innovators have looked at e-book development, while others have taken the audiobook route. Lead organizer of the festival, Asmaa Azaizeh, took another path to encourage engagement. Using the long tradition of Arab engagement with the arts as a tool, Azaizeh and other volunteers worked to create a program that made the exhibition more than a display of books. Each aspect of the exhibition played a role in making everything on sale—from books to music—more personal. The poets and storytellers that concluded two nights of the exhibition did so by bringing to life the texts that were being sold just one floor above. Additionally, these speakers were not strangers to the community; rather, as well known members of the Haifa community, they brought people to the exhibition. On one hand, having well-known figures at an event is a marketing tool; however, taken alongside the intent of the exhibition and its creators, having speakers and performers like Eyad Bargouthy and Rasha Nahas strengthens the sense of community already present in these spaces throughout Haifa.
The exhibition must also be placed contextually, though. As a place, Haifa is incredibly different from other cities within the Green Line. With many political and cultural organizations such as Adalah: The Arab Law Center and the Mossawa Center located in the city and the University of Haifa just up the mountain, the public discourse seen there is not like that of cities in the center or south. This atmosphere, though, contributed to the Fattoush Book Exhibition coming to fruition and thriving. Haifa may be a bubble, but it is the place that has been able to produce phenomenal spaces like the Fattoush Book Exhibition that challenge and expand the strong literary culture throughout the city.
[This article was published originally Tadween`s Al-Diwan blog by Diwan`s editor, Mekarem Eljamal.]