Adonis Diaries

Beirut Hay Festival, May 8-10/ 2013, and Joe Sacco

Posted on: May 11, 2013

Beirut Hay Festival starts today…May 8, 2013

Coup d’envoi ce soir du Hay Festival

Andrew Bossones is one of the organizers of this cultural event. Intellectuals, artists and thinkers will debate for 3 days on varied subjects, such as literature, illustrated works, economic development, human rights…

 Zico House hosts conferences in English such as “The struggle of women in a post-patriarchal context in the Arab World”, “Freedom of expression and censorship”… Joe Sacco, the American reporter will open the Festival. (I have reviewed one of his illustrated stories about the horror journey of African immigrants fleeing the atrocities of their States and having to cross the desert of Libya to reach the island of Malta…)

Al-Madina theater will host Hanan al-Shaykh (I reviewed a few of her books), Nidal Achkar and Hanif Kuireshi.

The Baroness Helena Kennedy will debate on « La liberté d’expression : un droit universel ? » before meeting with the journalist Hani Chucrallah.
Patrick Deville, Femina Prize 2012, Cherif Majdalani and Farès Sassine will speak at the French Institute of Beirut.
Venetia  Rainey, from the Daily Star, published this piece on Joe Sacco, first speaker in the Hay Festival:

Joe Sacco  is in no mood to mess around. “I can’t  pretend I am ‘objective’ about certain topics,” he says.

“In some situations there is such a thing as the oppressor and the oppressed,  and my goal is to give the oppressed a voice.”

The vaunted Maltese-American graphic novelist is well known for his  unwillingness to kowtow to conventional notions of journalistic objectivity:  presenting two, equally apportioned sides to every story.

“The problem with journalism  is that it is often a mere recording  of events from day to day,’” he explains. “A newspaper story might be factually accurate without giving the reader a sense of the ‘why.’”

It is Sacco’s pursuit of this sense of “why” – his scrutiny of the big and  small facets of history to find another way to understand and explain the  world’s daily tragedies – that drives his work and gives it its potency.

He is making his maiden voyage to Beirut  this week, among the cluster of writers and literary personalities to participate in Hay Festival Beirut. One of the  international franchises of the U.K.’s renowned literary festival in Hay-on-Wye,  the event was launched here in 2012, and provided a rare platform for the  mingling Lebanese and international writers.

Sacco was born in 1960 in Malta. His parents – an engineer and a teacher –  emigrated when he was very young to escape the influence of Roman Catholicism, a  theme he has explored in numerous works since.

He spent his childhood in Australia, where, surrounded by European immigrants  who regularly talked about war, he grew up thinking of conflict as a part of  life.

At the age of 12 his family moved the United States, where he studied  journalism at the University of Oregon. There he worked a series of jobs that  included co-founding the satirical comic magazine “Centrifugal  Bumble-Puppy.”

He was intrigued by the media’s portrayal of the Middle East and eventually  his travels found him in occupied Jerusalem.

“The only time I heard the word ‘Palestinian,’” he recalls, “was in relation  to incidents like terrorist attacks and hijackings. As a result, I grew up  thinking Palestinians were terrorists – pure and simple. I had to educate myself  about the Palestinian issue.”

At first, Sacco was nervous about venturing into the West Bank and  embarrassed to tell people he was writing a comic book (of all things) about the  Occupied Territories during the First Intifada.

Yet, after two months his notebooks were bulging, and “Palestine” was  published in nine issues between 1993 and 1995. Perhaps surprisingly for those  who have come to know his work more recently, his first solo venture was not a  commercial success.

His breakthrough came in 2000 with the release of “Safe Area  Gorade: The War in Eastern Bosnia  1992-1995,” which won an Eisner Award  for best original graphic novel –  though recognized as a graphic novelist, Sacco himself prefers the less inflated  term “comic book.”

“Palestine” was later republished more successfully in a single volume of 288  pages. He’s since released several other books and collections of earlier  pieces, which focused largely on Bosnia and the Palestinian territories.

Footnotes in Gaza” (2009), one of his best-known works, delves into two mass  killings in 1956, which had been consigned to the bin of history – one in Khan  Younis, and one in Rafah. “Footnotes” is now being adapted into a feature-length  animated film, to be directed by Denis Villneuve  – who helmed the 2010 screen  version of Wajdi Mouawad’s stage play “Incendies.”

“I’m somewhat ambivalent about turning ‘Footnotes in Gaza’ into a movie,” he  says.

“I don’t think that film is any more or less valid a medium than comic books.  But the story is about the massacre of Palestinians in 1956, and that’s a story  that should be heard by a wider audience than I’ve reached with the book.”

Sacco wants nothing to do with the new project.

“I decided to be hands off,” he continues. “For one thing, I don’t want to  interfere with someone else artistic vision, and for another, I spent seven  years on the book and it was really time for me to move on to other  subjects.”

It will be interesting to see how successfully Sacco’s engaging mix of  memoir, reportage and history, conveyed through close-ups, talking heads and  double-page panoramas can be transferred to celluloid.

Adult comic books can lend themselves to exaggeration,  and Sacco’s  figures are solidly drawn and plain-speaking. “I do think a journalist should be  honest,” he explains, “recording exactly what he or she is seeing and  hearing.”

Each detailed frame, which readers can pore over at their own pace, gives  each person’s stories a rich context that is impossible to relay in an article  or a minute-long TV report.

For Sacco, there is a difference between how journalists and artists operate,  a distinction he upholds in his work. “You have to be a little cold-hearted to  get the story accurately,” he explains. “Whatever you might be hearing, you have  to keep people on track. It’s a bit clinical. You can’t let yourself get  emotionally caught up.

“For me, the emotion comes later when I’m drawing. When you’re drawing  someone, you internalize that person somehow. You have to channel their feelings  into the drawing.

“Journalism is about switching something off; art is about switching  something on.”

Although he never studied art – and still doesn’t think drawing is his strong  point – he continues to hand-draw everything, working from photos and sketches  he makes while in the field.

It’s a painstaking process, so he is picky about which projects he takes  on.

“I have to ask myself whether I will still be 100 percent engaged in the  project three or four or five years down the road when I’m still drawing it,” he  says. “I cannot work on a story I am not emotionally committed to.

“So I only tackle projects that kick me in the gut.”

As gut-kicking material is a core criteria for starting a project, Sacco  concedes Lebanon’s stories may tempt him to pick up his pencil again.

Lebanon  is a complicated place and I can think of  any number of stories that might sustain my interest,” he says.

“This is my first visit. Sometimes you don’t know what story would interest  you until you’re there.”

Joe Sacco will be speaking at the Beirut Hay Festival on May 8-9. For more  information visit His latest book, “Journalism,” is  available from select bookshops.

A moment from “Footnotes in Gaza.”

A  version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May  08, 2013, on page 16.
Read more: (The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::
Note 1: Pour plus d’informations, le programme entier est disponible en anglais et en français sur le site

Note 2: Coup d’envoi ce soir du Hay Festival

Published in the Lebanese French daily, L’Orient/Le Jour this May 8, 2013: Coup d’envoi ce soir du Hay Festival

Initiative Intellectuels, artistes et penseurs débattront pendant trois jours sur des sujets variés aux quatre coins de Beyrouth dans le cadre du Hay Festival.

Partout dans le monde, et cela depuis plus de 25 ans, le Hay Festival met à l’honneur la diversité culturelle et l’échange intellectuel en invitant écrivains, penseurs, historiens et artistes à se réunir, partager et débattre sur le monde tel qu’il est et tel qu’il pourrait être.
À partir de ce soir et jusqu’au 10 mai, la capitale libanaise accueille le festival pour la deuxième année consécutive. Cette fois, les invités discuteront principalement de la littérature et des ouvrages illustrés, du développement économique ainsi que des problèmes auxquels font face les droits de l’homme. Prévu sur trois jours seulement, le programme est chargé.

Quelques temps forts Zico House accueillera des conférences en anglais sur des sujets tels que « Les combats des femmes dans un contexte arabe postautoritaire », « La liberté d’expression et la censure », ou « Les contes graphiques ». Sur ce dernier thème, Joe Sacco, le reporter américain célèbre pour ses reportages en croquis et bandes dessinées sur des terrains difficiles tels que la Palestine et plus récemment Gaza, sera présent au Beyrouth Art Center ce soir, à 18h, et demain, à 15h, à l’auditorium du Hostle Student Center de l’AUB.

Au théâtre al-Madina ce soir, à 20h 30, Hanan al-Shaykh, une des auteures les plus lues et traduites du Moyen-Orient, rencontrera l’actrice et réalisatrice Nidal Achkar autour des poétiques et séduisants récits de Shéhérazade. Les mystérieux contes des Mille et Une Nuits seront lus en arabe et sous-titrés en anglais. Demain 9 mai, à partir de 19h30, le 392RMEIL393 recevra Hanif Kuireshi.

Classé parmi les cinquante meilleurs écrivains britanniques en 2008, ce dernier a vu nombre de ses ouvrages adaptés au cinéma. Il conversera avec l’écrivain journaliste Rosie Boycott.

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May 2013

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