Extraordinary Rendition


Edited by RU FREEMAN

Extraordinary Rendition reminds us of the power of art and the necessity of literature. In stories, essays and poems that are as varied and diverse, contradictory and complicated as we are, the writers in this deeply humane anthology shed light and bear witness to the one of the complex conflicts of our time. Ru Freeman has made a book unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s a great contribution to not only to the conversation about Palestine, but to the larger one about peace and justice.” —Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild

“These varied writings—passionate, anguished, wry, intelligent—combine to produce a uniquely complex and powerful testimony. This is an extraordinary political-literary intervention.”
                                                                                            —Joseph O'Neill, author of Netherland

“It is both the artist’s burden and duty to witness what is going on in the world. Sometimes it is easier to remain silent, but as the incredible poet and activist Audre Lorde reminded us, our silence won’t protect us. In Extraordinary Rendition: (American) Writers on Palestine, silences are broken, poignant and powerful narratives and testimonials are offered on Palestine that make it impossible for the reader to remain unmoved, unshaken, and unaffected. I hope this book will not only stir emotions and reflections, but will also lead to urgent and necessary change.”
                                                                                                                                  —Edwidge Danticat

“This is a book that Americans who believe they're interested in a 'just peace' between Palestinians and Israelis should read. It's a wide and diverse and eloquent book of witness. And it's a revelation, and it's shocking. And it's tragic.” —Richard Ford

“The question of Palestine can sometimes feel like a long night of despair. But not with this new collection in sight! Here are witnesses, shining like stars.” —Amitava Kumar

“In Extraordinary Rendition, an eclectic range of American writers break through the stereotypes and distortions of our media and provide a far more nuanced, penetrating and three-dimensional portrait of Palestinians, their history and the political realities they face daily. The range of genres and approaches make this a necessary and timely anthology, and it should be read by as large and wide-ranging an audience as possible.” —David Mura

Extraordinary Rendition stands in the tradition of engaged artists, speaking in defense of liberty and justice—values that ought to be universal but just as often are used as fig leaves by history's victors. Here, renowned writers turn their words to battered, defiant and beautiful Palestine (a place whose oppressors receive the backing of America, a country whose passport many of these writers hold). Its a risky stance, but the best art takes risks. Inside find nuance, challenge, empathy deep into the bone.” —Molly Crabapple

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About the Book

Extraordinary Rendition brings together the work of sixty-five prominent writers to examine America’s culpability in the denial of human rights and dignity to Palestinians in Israel/Palestine and beyond.

The anthology includes pieces by writers such as Chana Bloch, Jane Hirshfield, Colum McCann, Roger Reeves, George Saunders and Alice Walker. In writing that is always clear, and often startlingly beautiful, they cover a range of issues including the erasure and reconstruction of histories, the examination of identity, the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of speaking out as artists, the conditions of occupation, and the potential for activism. They also explore the way U.S. foreign policy towards Palestine regularly mirrors the harsh realities faced by many of America’s own minorities.

The anthology as a whole counters the dehumanizing narrative about Palestine that has taken hold in the United States, often supported by mainstream news organizations, and makes a significant contribution toward an understanding of the ways people of conscience in general, and writers in particular, can take on one of the most pressing political questions of our time.

With contributions from Corban Addison, Mariana Aitches, Xhenet Aliu, Ammiel Alcalay, Kazim Ali, Sinan Antoon, Phillip B. Williams, Kafah Bachari, Frank Barat, Matt Bell, Dwayne Betts, Chana Bloch, Nate Brown, Hayan Charara, Teju Cole, Michael Collier, Ted Conover, Ramola Dharmaraj, Marlene Dumas, Mary Jane Nealon, Duranya Freeman, Tess Gallagher, Cristina Garcia, Suzanne Gardinier, David Gorin, Marilyn Hacker, Nathalie Handal, Jane Hirshfield, Fanny Howe, Leslie Jamison, Kim Jensen, Lawrence Joseph, Nancy Kricorian, Rickey Laurentiis, Kiese Laymon, Farid Matuk, Colum McCann, Askold Melnyczuk, Christopher Merrill, Claire Messud, Philip Metres, Peter Mountford, Susan Muaddi Darraj, Dina Omar, Alicia Ostriker, Ed Pavlic, Tomas Q. Morin, Roger Reeves, Alice Rothchild, George Saunders, Jason Schneiderman, Sarah Schulman, Alan Shapiro, Robert Shetterly, Naomi Shihab Nye, Tom Sleigh, Ahdaf Soueif, Adam Stumacher, William Sutcliffe, Janne Teller, Philip Terman, Diego Vazquez Jr., Alice Walker, Steve Willey, Tiphanie Yanique, and Clarence Young.

Publication December 3, 2015 • 452 pages
Paperback ISBN 978-1-682190-08-1 • E-book 978-1-682190-09-8

About the Editor

ru freeman author photo

Photograph © Brenda Carpenter

Ru Freeman’s creative and political writing has appeared internationally. She is the author of the novels A Disobedient Girl (Atria/Simon & Schuster, 2009) and On Sal Mal Lane (Graywolf, 2013), a New York Times Editor’s Choice Book. She blogs for the Huffington Post on literature and politics, is a contributing editorial board member of the Asian American Literary Review, and has been a fellow of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, The Corporation of Yaddo, Hedgebrook, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Lannan Foundation. She is the 2014 winner of the Sister Mariella Gable Award for Fiction, and the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for Fiction by an American Woman.

Read an Excerpt

From the Introduction by Ru Freeman

The impetus to ask a group of writers to reflect on the ongoing assault on the thin and shifting borders of Palestine, and the people who are confined to that tenuous landscape, became impossible to set aside in the face of the 2014 assault on Gaza, an assault in which Israel claimed it hit 5,226 targets within the 139 square miles that constitute Gaza, and one which left 2,104 Palestinians killed, including 495 children, and 10,626 injured, many critically. Parallel to the bombing of Gaza was the simultaneous incursion into Palestinian neighborhoods in the West Bank which went unmentioned in the American press. It resulted in the largest land-grab by Israel since 1948, with the seizure of $3.5 million worth of Palestinian property within and surrounding Jerusalem. In the face of such numbers, and the fact that we as Americans, willingly or not, fund the perpetration of such violence through our taxes, but more so by our silence, I felt that we needed to confront the reality that Cunard articulated in 1937: it is impossible any longer to take no side.

Against the backdrop of what had transpired, it would have been easy enough to gather a group of people who could give us facts and figures, history and conjecture, attack and defense. Yet the 2,402 square miles of Palestine, and the 3.9 million people who live within its fragmented territories occupy a larger moral and ethical space, particularly for American writers, one which is critical to the way we look at the world into which we release all our artistic endeavors. We need, as artists, to be able to hear the beat of that larger world, to provide in its hour of need, some perspective that can move toward a recognition of the fact that our hands too are stained – if we remain silent – with the blood of others.

We are fond of identifying ourselves with victims during certain historical moments: We were all Americans (during 9/11), we were all from Newtown (in the aftermath of that shooting), we were all Trayvon Martin/Michael Brown/Eric Garner, we all rose and fell with the Berlin wall and with Nelson Mandela. Yet we are rarely inclined to commit our art to documenting how, exactly, this comes to be. How do, in this case, the injustices experienced by Palestinians belong to us all? What makes us identify with people and a cause that is geographically remote but pulses with an intimacy that belies that distance? How does the giving and receiving of help sharpen our resolve on other fronts, and strengthen our bonds, and what forms can that solidarity and empathy take? Is it direct and literal, or oblique and fragmentary?

In an article titled “Poetry & Inhumanity: Anti-War Art: Nearly Impossible?” written for The Best American Poetry (August, 2014), Sara Eliza Johnson takes issue with Noah Belatsky’s article in The Atlantic (“Anti-War Art: Nearly Impossible”), which was written in the context of the July attack on Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces. Belatsky concludes that such art is almost impossible, that the prettifying (through narrative, aesthetic inference, etc.) drive of the artist distances the consumer, and renders the art itself irrelevant in terms of it having any impact on the machinery of war. Johnson, on the other hand, argues for writers, poets in particular, to consider their response to state-sanctioned violence which extends from police brutality (Ferguson), to the subsidizing of terror in other nations (Iraq, Iran, and Palestine). To support her argument for art that removes the space we often leave between ourselves and the misery and horror experienced by “others,” she points to Thomas Hirschchom’s “The Incommensurable Banner,” (2008), a visual art installation that depicts photographs of dead victims of the “War on Terror,” a piece that serves to create discomfort, to nag at our conscience, to observe that this dead body is, in fact, not us, but that we are deeply culpable in its existence. That discomfort is a useful way to describe the space that the writers in this collection were asked to occupy.

* * * *

The spirit behind this anthology is that it would first compel us to set our names down beside each other as writers willing to remove the barrier between the story we hear and/or are told, and ourselves. Secondly, that it would permit the creation of a new way of thinking about how we, as writers and readers, might raise our voices against the seeming inevitability of war and a culture of dispossession and invasion that has been allowed to remain unquestioned for too long. As Mourid Barghouti writes in his memoir, I Was Born There, I Was Born Here (2012), “The weaker party in any conflict is never allowed to tell his own story,” for the enemy will not allow a competing narrative. The story that is told, that the Palestinians are “wrong, defective, and deserving of the pain that they have brought upon themselves,” is given life through the deliberate muting of the Palestinian voice. It is into that ruinous silence that the writers gathered here pitch their voices and, together, construct sure footing.

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