NEW GOAL: A book by nine Syrian refugee writers won't be a comfortable read for anyone. Unfortunately this means that so far we have been unable to find an Arab publisher for Shatila Stories. So, if we can raise £12,000 overall, we have decided to publish the Arabic version ourselves. Our writers deserve to read their work in their own language.
From those living in situations beyond our imagination comes literature that defies categorization.
Thirty-five years ago this September the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut witnessed a brutal massacre. Following the Syrian Civil War the camp, originally built in 1949 to hold 3,000 Palestinian refugees, now houses between 20,000 and 40,000 people. This summer nine inhabitants answered Peirene’s call for writers to respond to their situation with a collaborative piece of fiction. The result is Shatila Stories. Please support their book and secure your copy.
An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war. 1 million have made their way to Europe where Syrians represent the biggest group of asylum seekers. However, Lebanon has been far worse affected. With 1.5 million Syrian refugees now living in the country, Lebanon has more refugees per capita than any other country in the world.
Meanwhile the world does not want to know. To put this into context: the UN’s 2016 humanitarian appeal for Syrian refugees was only 56% funded by the end of November 2016. To compound the problem, Lebanon has no formal refugee camps.
And so, most Syrians in Lebanon have no official status. They have no right to work and few means of sending their children to school. They have crowded into the former Palestinian camps in the cities, while huge make-shift tent villages have sprung up in rural areas without any formal infrastructure.
This is no longer a humanitarian crisis, but a humanitarian catastrophe.
About the Project
Is there a way out of this crisis? How can we alter our thinking to affect changes that will benefit us all?
In February this year our publisher, Meike Ziervogel, contacted the Lebanese NGO Basmeh & Zeitooneh (The Smile & The Olive) who operate a cultural centre in Shatila, to help her get in touch with writers living in the camp.
In July Meike and Syrian editor, Suhir Helal, travelled to the Shatila camp to run a creative writing workshop with refugees. Three men and six women from Syrian, Syrian-Palestinian and Palestinian backgrounds were commissioned to respond to their situation with a collaborative piece of fiction. The result, Shatila Stories, will be a piece of literature that crosses boundaries and defies categorisation.
Back row L-R: Safiya Badran, Writer / Hiba Maree, Writer / Suhir Helal, Editor / Safaa Algharbawi, Writer / Nibal Alalo, Writer / Meike Ziervogel, Publisher / Fatima Ghazzawi, Writer; Front row L-R: Samih Mahmoud, Writer / Omar Alndaf, Writer / Omar Ahmad, Writer.
One story by many authors
'I want to hear their stories and see if their imaginations can open up new paths of understanding between us. Collaborative works of literature can achieve what no other literature can do. By pooling our imaginations we are able to access something totally different and new that goes beyond boundaries - that of the individual, of nations, of cultures. It connects us to our common human essence: our creativity. Let's make stories, not more war.' Meike Ziervogel
In October Meike and Suhir went back to Beirut, where they continued working with the nine writers. A number of beautiful, haunting stories about life as a refugee in Shatila have now emerged.
There is a girl whose father wants to pay for a debt at the grocer's by marrying her off, a man whose best friend is killed by the low hanging electric cables in the camp, a Palestinian boy who has a visa to travel to Canada but with a grandmother who stands in his way, and a young woman who falls in love with a freedom fighter.
The next step in creating Shatila Stories is to interweave these stories to form a single, coherent narrative that will also include a photographic response to camp life by the writers and photographer Paul Romans.
There will be two editions: one in English and one in Arabic.
Why we need your support
‘Both from a humanitarian standpoint and an artistic perspective, Peirene performs an invaluable service by discovering new writers. These voices open our eyes, ears and hearts to a worldly reality in all its profound suffering, joy, community, isolation and complexity.’ Bidisha, Writer and Broadcaster
Publishing books is expensive. The up-front costs are high, and there is no guarantee that sales will return that money. As a small publisher, with tight margins, this is a high-risk book for us. But we also believe it is important, and something only a small publisher might be brave enough to do.
We have carefully budgeted our costs for production and come to the figure requested. This figure will cover costs for all aspects of book production, such as the writers’ fees, translator’s fee, the printing costs, design costs and proofreaders fees. It does not pay for our time travelling to Lebanon, time spent editing the book, or for our marketing and PR costs.
Any profits we will make from selling Shatila Stories will be donated to Basmeh & Zeitooneh. Your pledge means that we can produce a work of literature that will help to change the world for the better beyond the last page.
Every pledge of £15 or more will receive a copy of Shatila Stories on publication in 2018. This is the cover-price of the book, and includes postage and packaging. By pre-ordering here, you will receive the book before anyone else! Your pledge means we can press on with the project in confidence and craft something special.
About Peirene Press
Peirene Press is an award-winning boutique publishing house with a global outlook, based in London. We are committed to first-class translated literature, producing affordable, timeless collector items drawn from the very best of European and world literature. Every year we publish three first-time translations of European novellas as part of a subscription service. You can find out more about subscription here.
From 2016 we started commissioning books to respond to current events. This project, Peirene Now!, features books dealing with urgent, contemporary fiction. The third title in this series will be Shatila Stories.
Praise for Peirene Now! No. 1 breach - stories from the Calais Jungle
‘This is what fiction is for. These stories refresh difficult territory in ways that other writing cannot reach. Tender, tragic, funny (sometimes), persuasive.’ Sara Maitland
‘This is fine, suspenseful fiction springing from human lives in extremis…it possesses a timeless quality, despite its obvious timeliness.’ Kapka Kassabova, The Guardian
Praise for Peirene Now! No. 2 The Cut - a fictional response to Brexit
‘A diamond-sharp novella…These are vividly imagined lives, rendered with the concise strokes of an experienced portraitist.’ Jude Cook, The Guardian
‘A sensitive response to the national aura of suspicion unleashed by Brexit.’ Jon Day, Financial Times
Risks and challenges
Publishing has always been a tricky business, however the production of Shatila Stories is complicated further by the nature of the project, which transcends cultures and communities, and demands a vast understanding of the challenges refugee communities face today and a willingness to engage meaningfully with their cause.
Helping the Shatila refugee writers to tell their stories, while producing a book that delivers results for them, was never going to be an easy feat, but it can be done with your support. Pledging even £15 can assist us with this bold achievement and allow us to produce something special in the process.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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