Wandering Writers: Immigrant writers

By Gaia Regoli

On May 14th, three guest writers with immigrant backgrounds gathered in the Djanogly Hall of the Mishkenot Sha’ananim to tell their personal stories and how these had an impact on their writing.

Writers Festival 19 Gaia Immigrant S Talk

Ahmad D. Ramadan was the first writer to be interviewed. He was born in Syria and, after some time, he was arrested in Damascus without knowing for which reason. Afterwards, he was forced to leave the country and he now happily lives in Canada. How did his personal experience influence his writing? First of all, he writes about Syria and, more specifically, about the refugee experience focusing on the unique story of each character. Besides, writing about Syria is also a way to express his nostalgia, as he could never go back there. Moreover, he claimed that the act of writing played a cathartic role for him. Finally, he also dealt with the topic of intersectionality, referring to the fact that he is the product of different identities, e.g. man, homosexual, Syrian etc.

The second writer, Lana Lux, is from Ukraine, left her country at the age of 10 and moved to Germany. Her past is also very complex as she initially felt really discriminated. For example, when she was in kindergarten, she was bullied for being a Jew and most of the children did not want to play with her. How does this emerge in her writing? “Who I am, determines how I write”, so her immigrant side cannot be separated from who she is.

The third writer, Itamar Orlev, 44 years old, started writing at the age of 20 and decided that writing about the past, other people and places could be a lot more interesting rather than focusing on himself. His father is a writer as well and  one of the few people that survived the Holocaust in Poland. Itamar wrote a book about a Polish guy, although he never went to Poland neither before nor while writing his book.

In conclusion, all the three writers reflected on people’s habit to categorize them. In fact, they especially feel that people expect them as immigrants to be and behave in a certain way.

Furthermore, at the end of the conference, I ended up meeting two of the writers at the café of the Mishkenot Sha’ananim cultural center. Hence, I took the opportunity to ask them some further questions. In particular, I was interested in understanding the way in which they feel when talking about such personal issues in front of a public. Both Ahmad and Itamar agreed when saying that, during a conference, the character of the writer acts for them as a “mask” that makes them feel some sort of protection. However, they are not acting when talking about themselves and their books in front of people, but they express exactly what they feel and think despite wearing the “writer’s mask”. The conversation happened to develop into new discussions, such as the one on introversion and extroversion. Ahmad said that one is not better than the other, they are just different and they both present pros and cons. Also, we all agreed that, most of the times, because of their habit to categorize, people are used to think that everybody experiences life in the same way. Generally, it was an interesting exchange of opinions and ideas.