Raya Publishing: Palestine's Window to the Arab World

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Shalash saw the need for a publishing house capable of restoring respect for Palestinian literature, especially books authored by the Palestinians residing within the green line, who have an ongoing culture of resistance.

By: Rasha Hilwi

Published Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Akka – The dream began when Palestinian poet and journalist Bashir Shalash (b. 1978) was living in Berlin during his studies. He had nowhere to sleep after he had to leave his apartment. The young Shalash found himself spending his days reading in a bookstore in central Berlin. At night he would wait around for daylight to break to return to the books.

This experience drove him some years later to establish a publishing house. After months of logistic preparations, Raya (meaning “banner”) Publishing House opened on 13 March 2011 – the day marking Palestinian National Culture Day and Mahmoud Darwish's birthday. It launched with the publishing of the complete works of the late Taha Muhammad Ali, the novel She, I, and Autumn by Salman Natour, and River Apple by Muhammad Naffaa.

Shalash saw the need for a publishing house capable of restoring respect for Palestinian literature, especially books authored by the Palestinians residing within the green line, who have an ongoing culture of resistance.

"When someone approaches Arab publishing houses, they are treated as clients – not as owners of a creative project," Shalash tells Al-Akhbar.

Shalash, author of Storm Harvest, spends much of his time in a small office overlooking the sea and Haifa, where he talks about why he chose the name "Raya" for the publishing house.

"In the chaos of vague viewpoints, there should be someone to hold up a clear banner, especially for the cultural theme, which is by far the most serious," he says.

Raya is in the process of launching a literary series titled Arab Raya, which aspires to become Palestine's window to the Arab world. The series entails important Arab literature in Palestinian editions, which are badly-needed considering Palestinian readers have to go through great ordeals trying to obtain copies in Arab.

In coordination with the respective authors, the series opens with Iraqi poet Saadi Yousef’s Buzzard Flight and popular Egyptian poet Ahmad Fouad Negm. Shalash describes the series as the "local reader's guide to the latest publications in the Arab world in special Palestinian copies."

Shalash does not believe that this initiative is enough to resolve the crisis of Arabic books in Palestine, but he will try to present the latest and most important Arab titles that may not be available to readers, in order to "ensure our communication with our Arab depth and modern Arab culture, of which we are an essential part."

Raya will also tackle translations. Shalash obtained several manuscripts from Arab translators, such as the complete works of German dramatist and poet Heiner Muller translated by Palestinian director Sameh Hijazi. He also talks about a comprehensive translation project with anti-Zionist jews.

Regarding Palestinian work, Raya Publishing House will soon release the complete works of Mahmoud Shuqair, a collection of poetry by Ahmad Dahbour, and other titles by Palestinian authors such as Adania Shibli.

The publisher recently issued a collection of stories by Ismail Nashef titled Gaps, in addition to preparing an anthology of of Palestinian erotica texts showing another side of Palestinians.

Since its first releases, Raya Publishing's distinctive niche has been in the design elements of its books, produced by artist Wael Wakim. Shalash says that he invests in the quality and the aesthetic aspect as much as the content of the books he publishes.

He adds that when someone holds a Raya book, the reader can see its value as an artistic product can compete with books published in Cairo and Beirut. "It is part of the challenge to present worthy and new content within an artistic visible form that is able to compete with publications in the Arab world."

Shalash is optimistic about his project. "In five years, Raya will be the top location for anything concerning Palestinian books in the entire Arab world."

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

I have a publishing question:

I'm a relatively successful science fiction short story author, having, among other sales, over 40 stories in Analog Science Fiction, America's highest circulation SF print magazine. (See my website www.frithrik.com.)

Recently, I've completed a science fiction novel, but publication in the United States is problematic as the novel takes a distinctly pro-Palestinian stance (although the story doesn't beat the reader over the head with it).

I wonder if perhaps I should seek publication outside of the USA, perhaps in the Arab world. I'd be thankful for any advice. And I'd be glad to send a copy of the manuscript to anyone who requests one. My email address is [email protected]

-Carl Frederick

Congratulations, Basir. I trust that your dream will continue to bear fruit for the benefit of all of us Palestinians, Arabs and Arabic speakers everywhere.

I congratulate Palestinian writers for their courage and hard work.
It comes from suffering and talent gifted, giving back to society as witnesses of the Human Condition. Humanity is rendered only in Literature and Poetry.

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