& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Arab Voices

Guest post by 

Abdulrahman Matar

 In April 2019, the Syrian Mediterranean Cultural Forum organized a new poetry evening, ‘Arab Voices,’ at the public library in Aurora (Ontario, Canada) as a part of its annual program.

Many Arab writers and artists living in Canada participated in the program and included poets Rula Kahil (Lebanon) Naeim Helene (Syria) Suzan Sami Jamil (Iraq) Younes Al-Atari (Palestine) Abdulrahman Matar (Syria), Jacqueline Hanna Salam (Syria).

The Syrian artist Ismael Abu Fakher also played the Bezek (solo, accompanied by poetry readings). A short film ‘The 11th Commandment’ was presented by Mowafaq Katt (Syria).

In addition, Abdul Rahman Matar and Mowafaq Katt created a calligraphy of Arabic characters and dedicated it to the people of Aurora.

The readings were conducted in both Arabic and English, with the technical assistance of the library team which included the projection of texts on a large screen at the Aurora Public Library.

In attendance were a number of distinguished individuals from the Canadian public life including the Mayor of Aurora, the local Member of Parliament, Members of PEN Canada.
Arab Voices is a cultural project aimed at introducing the Canadian public to the contemporary cultural of Arab creators living in Canada.


The Syrian Mediterranean Cultural Forum has held cultural evenings in Istanbul and Toronto since February 2014.

The founder of the forum is Syrian writer, poet and novelist Abdulrahman Matar, who has lived in Canada for the last four years, having come here as a refugee.

Syrian Mediterranean Cultural Forum is a Syrian cultural forum, NGO, Non-profit, currently located in Toronto – Canada. The purpose of the Forum is to enable a cultural expression of Arabic culture especially in literature and the arts. 

Specifically, through hosting a variety of activities, which bring out, and express the general cultural sides of life.

The forum aims to open up to different cultures, and to share ideas and activities, and it sees the important diversity behind that. It also aims to be a stage of cultural fertilization and debates. Also to form a support for the Syrian refugees who are merging with the new societies that are receiving them.

This forum was founded in, March 2013, in Istanbul. It emerged from the Mediterranean studies center (which was founded in Damascus, 2012) where it also continued its activities in 2013, in Istanbul, where it’s officially registered. It had organized many cultural events, like poetry and musical events. 

Many of the Syrian poets, writers, and novelists, had attended and been part of.

The Forum's Vision
  • To spread the culture of debate, civil work, peace, and tolerance.

The goals of the forum

  • To express the different sides of the Syrian, Arab, and global literature, and the art.
  • To be a bridge of cultural connection between the motherland and the residents in other foreign countries.
  • Contributing to the process of merging people within new societies.
  • To connect and exchange with other cultures, through expressing the importance of diversity, while defining, and recognizing it.
  • Support and encourage young talents.

  • Horizon from perfume Soul: poetry and music - Istanbul / Feb 24, 2014.
  • Poetry readings with music: Istanbul / Jan 25, 2015
  • Poet Nuri Al-Jarrah: Poetry readings and book signing / Istanbul, April 11, 2015
  • A solidarity stand with the Syrian detainees: Toronto Sep 08, 2018.
  • Arabic Voices in Toronto: Poetry Reading / Heart House – U OF T- Toronto Nov 03, 2018
  • Arabic Voices:  Poetry - Music - Movie - Arabic Calligraphy Sketch / Aurora Public Library Apr 06, 2019


About Abdulrahman Matar

Writer and journalist from Syria, resident in Canada since 2015, poet and novelist. He worked in the culture field and media in Syria and Libya. He is a researcher in Euro-Mediterranean relations, human rights, and terrorism issues, and he is an activist on freedoms and civil society issues. Founder and Director of the Mediterranean Studies Center & Syrian-Mediterranean Cultural Forum - SEEGULL.

He continues to publish the research and articles in the Arabic press.

He has published five books: Blood is not red (common stories 1983), Rain leaves - Poetry 1999 , The evening Rose - Poetry 2000, Mediterranean Studies 2001,Wild Mirage - Novel 2015,and a some manuscripts.

His books have been well received, and dozens of articles have been written about them in various Arab media.

He was arrested five times and spent nearly ten years in prison as a result of his writings, freedom of expression, and his positions on issues of freedom and human rights.

His novel "Wild Mirage" deals with his experiences in political imprisonment, torture, deprivation, abuse and the oppression. Matar is a Membership of Syrian writers' Association, and the Association of Journalists.

Membership of "Writer in Exile" / PEN Canada.

Membership of Writers’ Union of Canada.

Friday, May 10, 2019

The World is Here: Novels Navigating Love and Conflict

From L to R: Manjushree Thapa, Josh Scheinert,  Eva Salinas
Uzma Jalaluddin and Sharon Bala
at a discussion on
'The World is Here: Novels Navigating Love and Conflict
at the Festival of Literary Diversity  

The Festival of Literary Diversity’s fourth edition was held recently in Brampton. The festival has grown steadily in participation and popularity over the years, attracting the best literary talent that Canada offers.

In 2016, just prior to the launch of the first festival, I interviewed Jael Richardson, the founder and artistic director of the festival, for TAG TV (see the interview here: https://youtu.be/vDklJugI6Xg). Jael said the idea of the festival came to her in 2014 when she participated in a book conference in New York and was stunned at the lack of diversity in the lineup of the authors. Dalton Higgins, author and events organiser, pointed out to Jael that the situation wasn’t too different in Canada.

Jael and a group of people who shared her interests got together and decided to launch a Festival that would celebrate diversity in all its forms – race, faith, sexual orientation, abilities (physical and mental). The purpose was to create space in the world of literature that would reflect the Canadian reality of multiculturalism. Earlier this year, the Writers’ Union of Canada recognised Jael and FOLD with the 2019 Freedom to Read Award.

Since its start in 2016, I have attended all the four festivals in Brampton. In 2017, I was privileged to be invited as an author. And every year, the festival has featured many authors who congregate in the first week of May to talk about themselves, their books, their readers, other authors, Canada, diversity, multiculturalism, and have fun.

This year, the festival’s main venue was the landmark Rose Theatre in Brampton. Spring had finally arrived, and the longish commute from Toronto didn’t seem too arduous, especially because the session that I’d chosen to attend – ‘The The World is Here: Novels Navigating Love and Conflict’ – had fine authors, all of whom had their debut novels published in Canada recently.

The panel included

Sharon Bala (The Boat People which was a finalist for Canada Reads 2018 and was awarded the 2018 Amazon Canada First Novel Award);

Uzma Jalaluddin (Ayesha At Last, a revamped Pride and Prejudice that is soon to be made into a film);

Josh Scheinert (The Order of Nature, set in Gambia, portraying the struggles and fears of being gay in West Africa) and

Manjushree Thapa (All of Us in Our Own Lives is her first novel to be published in Canada).

Eva Salinas, managing editor of foreign affairs news site OpenCanada.org and a freelance journalist, moderated the discussion.

Sharon’s and Uzma’s novels are about their protagonists coming to Canada, and Josh’s and Manjushree’s novels are about their protagonists leaving Canada. In all four novels, the borders between home and away get blurred, and lives are transformed because of physical and emotional dislocation.

Eva asked the panelist about the different kinds of borders in their stories, and how their characters and they as writers respond to these borders.

Sharon, whose novel is about Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka, landing off the coast of British Columbia, says that more than personal, physical, and geographical borders, her characters navigate the liminal spaces of silences and secrets. 

In Uzma’s Ayesha At Last, the boundaries are purely personal. A character in the novel, Khalid, knows he appears weird to the world because of in-your-face refusal to abandon his ethnicity and cultural rootedness; but he doesn’t worry overtly about this because he contends that he is who he is because of his belief; the reader is not expected to like him rather spend time with him to understand him.

“People cross borders often without having a choice,” Josh says. In his novel, which explores the relationship between an American (Andrew) and a Gambian (Thomas), the protagonists cross the continental borders, and the borders of control drawn by the society and families. In Manjushree’s All of Us in Our In Our Own Lives, Ava Berriden goes from Toronto to Nepal to find meaning in her life, but realises that she is unwanted despite her power.

The discussion dealt with issues that are common to Canadian milieu – issues such as acceptance, belonging, identity and home. “What gives us our identity, and how much of it is related to race?” asked Eva, whose careful choice of questions accentuated the inherently Canadian character of these authors.