Alta’ir Durham-Jordan Exchange 2019 no hi


Alta’ir is a partnership project between the Durham Book Festival/New Writing North (co-founder), the British Institute in Amman/Council for British Research in the Levant (CBRL) (co-founder), St Aidan’s College, Durham University (co-founder), and Dr Fadia Faqir (initiator and co-founder).

The project aims to encourage dialogue with Jordan and the Arab world through literature. The cultural exchange and dialogue that it will enable and create, will open windows for non-Arab audiences in the UK onto the realities of Arab cultures in all their diversity and vibrancy, enabling fruitful discourse to develop. It is hoped that this will lead to further exchange, to mutual respect, to new writings, and deeper understanding.


“We live in dark times and are witnessing the return of fascism. As an Arab woman I go to sleep and wake up the next morning criminalised although completely innocent. Constantly misrepresented and deformed by the British Media, I started to feel insignificant and helpless. To empower myself and marginalised others like me and to counter the rise of racism and xenophobia, I began thinking about a project that could be an antidote to the toxic culture of hate prevailing all over the world. An exchange programme between Jordan and Durham seemed a fitting way of challenging preconceptions and creating spaces for conversations and meaningful dialogues between civilisations, peoples and writers.
“I was born in Amman and spent the first third of my life there, then I studied and taught at different universities in the UK, but 25 years ago I settled in Durham. It was time to give back to my hometown Amman and to Durham, the city that adopted me, and what better way of doing that than shining a light on the writings of Jordanian authors and poets and their counterparts based in the North East of England. So, as a Jordanian/British writer I initiated the exchange programme to give back to both cities, which are part of mental landscape and fiction.”  _ Fadia Faqir, initiator and co-founder of Alta’ir.

British Author Who Went to Jordan
Andrew Michael Hurley (born 1975) is a British writer whose debut novel, The Loney, was published under Hodder and Stoughton’s John Murray imprint in 2015. It is the winner of the 2015 Costa Book Awards First Novel Award as well as the British Book Industry award for best debut fiction and book of the year 2016. His second novel, Devil’s Day, was published on 19 October 2017 by John Murray and Tartarus Press and was joint winner of the Royal Society of Literature’s 2018 Encore Award for the best second novel. Hurley has previously had two volumes of short stories published by the Lime Tree Press (Cages and Other Stories, 2006, and The Unusual Death of Julie Christie and Other Stories, 2008). He lives in Lancashire, where he teaches English literature and creative writing.
Andrew Michael Hurley began his stay in Jordan with a welcome lunch at the British Institute in Amman/CBRL. The lunch was hosted by: Dr Carol Palmer, the director of the institute, and Mr Firas Bqa’en, Operations Manager for CBRL, and was attended by author Fadia Faqir, the initiator of Alta’ir exchange program, HE Haza’a Albarari, first secretary of the Ministry of Culture, authors Kafa Al-Zoubi, Mofleh Aladwan, and Jalal Bargas, and architect and artist Ammar Khammash. The delicious lunch was cooked to perfection by Um-Mohamad.
Andrew then visited The House of Poetry in Amman on 3 September 2019. Located in Jabal al-Jofeh, the house, which is a fine example of 1930’s architecture, is now a home to poetry recitals, cultural activities and a database of Jordanian poets and poetry.  From its large veranda and garden, you can see the Citadel on the opposite hill and the Roman Amphitheatre in the valley, at the heart of Amman’s city centre. The visit was kindly organised by writer Mofleh Aladwan, director of the Royal Cultural Centre, and Ms Shima Al Tall, head of Dept of Culture at Amman Municipality.
Andrew spent a few days in Wadi Fynan, Wadi Rum and Petra and went back to Amman through the King’s Highway passing by Tafilah, Kerk and Madaba. Mr Ammar Khammash took him on a tour of the Eastern Desert. He also visited Bethany, the Dead Sea, and Madaba.
The Narrative Lab in Amman organised a meeting for him with Jordanian writers at the Shoman Foundation. It was chaired by Mofleh Aladwan and attend by Carol Palmer, director of the British Institute in Amman and co-founder of Alta’ir, Firas Bqa’in, Operations Manager for CBRL’s British Institute in Amman, Fadia Faqir, writing fellow at St Aidan’s College, Durham University, and initiator and cofounder of Alta’ir, and Rachel Telfer,  UK executive officer at CBRL, and the following Jordanian writers: Fida’ Al Hadidi, Kafa Al Zoubi, Muhammad Jamil Khader, Khairi Al-Dhabi, Kawthar al-Jondi, As’ad Khalifa Mekhled Barakat, Kawthar Khalid al-Zoubi and Hashim Gharaibeh.
Andrew spoke about visiting Wadi Fynan, ‘This valley was one of the routes our distant ancestors took during their migration from Africa to Europe and so to touch the water here is to touch what binds us all. And now the name of the project that’s brought me to Jordan – Alta’ir, the bird, the flying one – makes complete sense. It’s a reminder of our shared aspiration for freedom and flow. From the sky, the bird sees nothing but an open world.’ Read the full text here

Writer Who Came to Durham
Kafa Al-Zoubi is a Jordanian writer, born in 1965. She obtained a BA in Civil Engineering from Saint Petersburg University, Russia, where she remained until 2006. She is the author of six novels. Her second book, Laila, the Snow and Ludmilla (2007) dealt with the collapse of the Soviet Union and questions of Arab and Russian identities and was published in Russian in Moscow in 2010. Her fourth novel Go Back Home, Khalil (2009) was published only in Russia. Her fifth novel S was translated into Spanish in 2018. Her sixth novel, Cold White Sun, a multi-layered, modernist novel, with a trace of post-modernity, in which the social realism of great Russian literature is mixed with absurdism and existential philosophy, was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2019 (OKA Arabic Booker). Kafa Al-Zoubi writes for the Jordanian and Arab press and lives in Amman, Jordan.
Kafa stayed at St Aidan’s College, Durham University between 3-17 October 2019. New Writing North/Durham Book Festival invited her to a welcome dinner at Indigo Hotel on 4 October. Then she met Leila Aboulela, who was speaking at the festival. Kafa attended the Gordon Burn Prize Ceremony at the Gala Theatre and the private view of Mr Ammar Khammash’s exhibition and the following special dinner.
Al-Zoubi and Hurley spoke at the Durham Book Festival on 12 October 2019 about their writing and their impressions of the countries, cities and the towns they had visited. Andrew read an extract from his novel Devil’s Day and Kafa read a few lines in Arabic and then Ouissal Harize, translator and interpreter, read her full testimony. Issues related to colonialism, orientalism, misrepresentation, and inclusion were also discussed.
A talk at the School of Modern Languages and Cultures was jointly organised for Kafa before her departure by the Arabic and Russian departments.

Artist Who Came to Durham
To accompany the writers’ exchange an exhibition of Jordanian artist Ammar Khammash’s work will open to the public between 11-17 October at St Aidan’s College, Durham University. Ammar Khammash is one of the more prominent artists to come out of the Middle East in the 21st century and is a multi-talented Jordanian who has made his mark in several disciplines. He held eighteen solo and participated in over 20 group exhibitions since 1978. His paintings are multi-layered and transmit the richness of Jordanian landscape and his deep knowledge of the terrain, its geology and history. http://www.khammash.com/art
Mr Ammar Khammash arrived in Durham to attend the private view of his solo exhibition at St Aidan’s College, Durham University and the following special dinner on 11 October. He attended the Gordon Burn Prize Ceremony and Alta’ir event at the Durham Book Festival.
On October 13 he went with Kafa Al Zoubi on a tour of Housesteads Roman Fort, Hadrian’s Wall, and Roman Vindolanda Fort and Museum. Then attended an Art Tour organised by the Curator of Western Art at Durham University.
On October 14 poet Linda France, Alta’ir fellow 2018, led a creative writing workshop entitled ‘Ancient Landscape’ on Ammar Khammash’s art. The workshop was a rare opportunity to explore these dramatic landscape paintings at close hand and consider the poetry of place. It experimented with the rich possibilities of ekphrastic writing – giving words to our in-the-moment sense of the artist’s vision – transported to Jordan’s spectacular terrain.

Farewell Lunch
On October 15 a farewell lunch was organised for Kafa Al-Zoubi and Ammar Khammash and was attended by Andrew Michael Hurley. Dr Susan Frenk, principle of St Aidan’s college, welcomed the guests and presented them with gifts. Fadia Faqir, writing fellow at St Aidan’s college and initiator and co-founder of Alta’ir, described how the exchange has blossomed and how a seed, which was planted in 2016, grew into a beautiful tree with a bird ‘Alta’ir’ perched on it. She also thanked all partners, supporters, and sponsors.

It is important to acknowledge the help and support Alta’ir Durham-Jordan:
Creative Collaboration programme has received from the following amazing people:
On the Jordanian side:
Carol Palmer and Firas Bqa’in at the CBRL for their kind hospitality
Writer and playwright HE Haza’ Albarai, first secretary of the Ministry of Culture
Writer and playwright Mofleh Aladwan for his continual help and support of this project
Ammar Khammash for his generous support
Writer Jalal Barjas at the Jordanian Narrative Lab
Valentina Kassisieh, CEO of the Shoman Foundation, and her amazing staff
Shima Al Tal and her amazing staff
Kafa Al-Zoubi and her husband Salam Qubailat for their generous hospitality
On the British side:
St Aidan’s College, Durham UniversityMy colleagues Dr Susan Frenk, principal; Sukanya Miles-Watson, assistant senior tutor; and Emma Wilson, college office coordinator
Rebecca Wilkie, senior programmes manager, Durham Book Festival
Claire Malcolm, CEO of New Writing North
Adam Talib, Director of Studies at the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, Durham University
Ouissal Harize, School of Modern Language and Cultures for carrying out all the translation and interpretation for the exchange.
Eman Al Assa, DPET scholar, School of Modern Language and Cultures, for helping out with instant interpretation.

This year’s exchange wouldn’t have been possible without the generous support of Durham Book Festival/ New Writing North, The British Institute in Amman/CBRL, St Aidan’s College, Durham University, and Mr Ammar Khammash.

Introducing Iraqi Author Ali Bader

To counter the rise of racism and xenophobia, I began thinking about a project that could be an antidote to the toxic culture of hate prevailing all over the world. A fellowship in the west for Arab authors seemed a fitting way of challenging preconceptions and creating dialogue between civilisations.

During my travels over the past two years, I spoke to academics, writers, intellectuals, journalist both Arab and non-Arab about my dream.

In 2013 I had an author’s round table and a book signing at the Fourth Annual Translation Conference, held at the Hamad bin Khalifa University, and co-sponsored by the Qatar Foundation. Iraqi author and journalist Samuel Shimon, the London-based editor and co-founder of Banipal, a renowned international magazine of contemporary Arab literature published in English, gave a keynote speech in which he said that in his experience of publishing from Arabic into English, Western publishers needed to move beyond narrow stereotypes of Arabic novels and writers. Listening to him, the idea of cooperation with Banipal began germinating.

I went back to Durham and had a meeting with Dr Susan Frenk, the principal of St Aidan’s College, Durham University, where I hold a Creative Writing Fellowship, and this distinguished scholar and amazing woman welcomed the idea.

On 27 April, 2016, at the Abu Dhabi International Bookfair, I had a meeting with Margaret Obank, trustee of Banipal Publishing, and discussed the idea with her. The outcome was positive and we agreed to hold a meeting in Durham to discuss it further.

On 26 September Dr Sudan Frenk, Margaret Obank, Samuel Shimon, and I met and we agreed to set up the Banipal Visiting Writer Fellowship (BVWF) for published authors writing in Arabic. History was made for the fellowship is the first of its kind. I have nothing but gratitude and praise for the Banipal team and St Aidan’s College.

Margaret kindly offered to conduct negotiations with the British Council. After a number of conversations and a meeting they agreed to support us.

We publicised the fellowship in November, 2016, and we received 198 applications. Some of the best Arab writers have applied. In December, in a meeting at the American University of Kuwait we chose the shortlist. Then the committee selected the Iraqi author Ali Bader as the first Fellow and he arrived in Durham on 23 January, 2017.

Truly, a dream come true.


Ali Bader is a well-known Iraqi novelist and essayist, whose work is making an important contribution to contemporary Arabic literature. He is the author of thirteen works of fiction, two of which were long-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (aka Arabic Booker), and several works of non-fiction.

He was born 1979 in Baghdad, where he studied Western Philosophy and French Literature. His first novel,Papa Sartre: بابا سارتر, which was published in 2001, focuses on the legacy of the 1960s generation, and criticises their negative impact on their culture. Following its critical acclaim in the Arab world, he was awarded the State Prize for Literature in Baghdad in 2002, and the Tunisian Abu Al-Qassem Al-Shabi Award, and the novel was translated into English.

In 2002, his novel The Family’s Winter: شتاء العائلة revisits the of theme of the decline of the Iraq’s elite, but this time focusing on the aristocracy during the 1950s. That same year, he received the Literary Creativity Prize.

His third novel The Road to Mutran Hill, published in 2003, focuses on Iraqi’s social problems and the increasing division between different segments, denominations, and ethnicities, and it prophesies the disintegration of Iraq.

His novel Jerusalem Lantern is a fictional rendering of the life of the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said.

In his novel The Tobacco Keeper, which was short listed for the international prize for Arabic Fiction, he uses reportage, memoir, historical documents, etc. to constructs the life of Kamal Medhat, an Iraqi Jewish musician, whose body was found floating on the River Tigris. The novel follows his struggle to integrate into Iraqi society. The rich tapestry is layered skilfully and the distance between observer and observed is carefully orchestrated to create maximum impact. The narrative zooms in and out on the life of the composer, which mirrors the modern history of Iraq. Larger questions about identity, nationalism, and freedom both individual and otherwise are also raised.

His latest work, Crime, Art, and a Dictionary of Baghdad, is a novel about the sacramental and philosophical schools during the Abbasid era.

He is working on his new novel Liar takes All.

Ali Bader also wrote non-fiction:  Massion in Baghdad (2005), Sleeping Prince and Waiting Campaign (2006), Shahadat: Witnessing Iraq’s Transformation after 2003 (2007), and MNSG: Navigation between Home and Exile (2008), which won the Every Human Has Rights Media Award of 2008.

He is also a seasoned publisher and recently he took the reins of Alca Books. In addition, he contributes regularly to  the Arabic newspapers such as Al-Hayat, Al-Mada, Al-Dustour, and Al-Riyadh. He was also a war correspondent.

We are fortunate to have such a prolific and prominent Arab writer among us.