Faraj Bayrakdar with Ammiel Alcalay, R. Shareah Taleghani, and Elias Khoury
This event will take place virtually on Zoom. Click the button above to register.
Join the Transnational Literature Series at Brookline Booksmith for a virtual event with author Faraj Bayrakdar and his editors and translators Ammiel Alcalay and R. Shareah Taleghani to discuss and celebrate the release of A Dove in Free Flight. They will be in conversation with writer Elias Khoury.
In 2002—just after 9/11 and prior to the US invasion of Iraq—a group inspired by Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury’s seminar on Arab prison literature decided to collectively translate Syrian poet Faraj Bayrakdar’s collection A Dove in Free Flight. Smuggled out of prison, the poems were published in Beirut without his knowledge, as a means of publicizing the poet’s plight as a political prisoner, and exerting pressure on public opinion to pay attention to his case. A French version, translated by the great Moroccan poet Abdellatif Laabi, himself a former political prisoner, followed.
More than fourteen years after the initial completion of the project, UpSet Press presents this extraordinary poetic, human, and historical document, featuring an introduction by editors Ammiel Alcalay and Shareah Taleghani, a preface by Elias Khoury, and an interview with the poet himself following his release on November 16, 2000, after thirteen years, seven months, and seventeen days in the Syrian carceral archipelago.
The New York Translation Collective includes Ammiel Alcalay, Sinan Antoon, Rebecca Johnson, Elias Khoury, Tsolin Nalbantian, Jeffrey Sacks, and Shareah Taleghani.
Faraj Bayrakdar is a journalist and award-winning poet. In 1987 he was arrested on suspicion of belonging to the Party for Communist Action and remained in prison without trial until 1993 when he was sentenced to fifteen years hard labor for belonging to an unauthorized political organization. His imprisonment lasted more than twelve years, in three different prisons. Throughout his detention, he composed poetry, either from memory or using the most rudimentary tools. Without his knowledge, a group of friends in Beirut published A Dove in Free Flight. The book was used, Elias Khoury writes, as “one of the instruments of pressure on the Syrian authorities to mobilize international, intellectual opinion, particularly in France, in order to set the poet free.” After an international campaign on his behalf, Bayrakdar was released from prison during the brief political respite known as “Damascus Spring” in 2000. In 2005, he left Syria and currently resides in Sweden. The Italian translation of A Dove in Free Flight won the 2017 Vercelli Festival Award and a second edition of the original Arabic was published in 2020.
Poet, novelist, translator, critic, and scholar Ammiel Alcalay teaches at Queens College and The Graduate Center, CUNY. His books include After Jews and Arabs, Memories of Our Future, Islanders, neither wit nor gold: from then, from the warring factions, and a little history. Recent books include the co-edited A Dove in Flight: Poems by Faraj Bayrakdar, with Shareah Taleghani and the New York Translation Collective; a poem sequence, Ghost Talk, and A Bibliography for After Jews & Arabs. He has written and been active on the question of Palestine for decades and, during the wars in ex-Yugoslavia, he was one of the main conduits for translations from Bosnia. He is a contributing editor of The Markaz Review and was given a 2017 American Book Award from The Before Columbus Foundation for his work as founder and General Editor of Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative (lostandfoundbooks.org).
R. Shareah Taleghani is Assistant Professor and Director of Middle East studies at Queens College, the City University of New York. She is the author of Readings in Syrian Prison Literature: the Poetics of Human Rights and co-editor of Generations of Dissent: Intellectuals, Cultural Production, and the State in the Middle East and North Africa.
Elias Khoury was born in Beirut, where he now lives. Indelibly marked by his deep involvement in the Palestinian cause, Khoury has been consistently outspoken in fighting for freedom of expression and defending the rights of suppressed activists, thinkers, and writers. While he has won many prizes and awards and his works have been translated into many languages, he considers his greatest public honor the gesture made by a group of displaced Palestinians, when they named a tent city, erected in protest of Israeli settlements, after Khoury’s fictional village in his novel Gate of the Sun. Author of thirteen novels, four volumes of literary criticism, and three plays, Khoury’s work has always explored the exchange between fictional representation and events in the world. A major international author whose importance and stature only grows, Khoury has been Global Distinguished Professor of Middle Eastern and Arabic Studies at New York University and taught at Columbia University, the Lebanese University, the American University of Beirut, and the Lebanese American University.