January the 27th of this year marked a pivotal moment of President Donald Trump’s valiant endeavour to stay true to his election promise and ‘make America great again’, with the introduction of his immigration ban upon seven Muslim-majority countries. Although the ban was lifted the following week by federal judges and remains subject to the scrutiny and ruling of the US Supreme Court, the impact of reducing entire nations and their people to being “compromised by terrorist organisations” or of containing “active conflict zones”, has been felt across the West and the Arab World alike.
The global media uproar which inevitably followed only worked to enhance the political stigma with which the Middle East region has become all too familiar. The executive order was soon labelled as a racist ‘Muslim ban’, with Trump even being accused by some as carrying out an ethnic cleansing in America. Yet the Trump administration and its supporters maintained that such measures were necessary in order to guarantee “the security and safety to which we are entitled”. As the first point of reference for opinion and coverage of political events, the mainstream media often forces one to pick sides and subscribe to a certain narrative. However, failure to look beyond an ideological positioning makes you susceptible to a narrowing tunnel vision- and the result? An ever-growing feeling of being out of touch with the societies and cultures at the heart of and most affected by such international conflicts.
For this reason, the arts and literature act as a crucial access point in beginning to break down barriers of misunderstanding, and we aim to do just that through the variety of authors and stories that we publish. Often, many fail to consider the lives and situations of turmoil which are outside of their own frame of reference as ‘real’, but by humanising narratives such as these through literature we can combat this ignorance. For example, last year saw the publication of Refugee Tales, followed last month by Volume II, which successfully created a safe and open space for untold and often ignored stories of those fleeing conflict. Now we are continuing with our mission to utilise the power of the short story to transcend cultural boundaries and enable a greater understanding across them by introducing the ‘Banned Nations Showcase’, an explicit response to the insular foreign policy decisions of the Trump administration. The introductory publication for this series is the much-anticipated short story collection, Banthology: Seven Stories from Seven Countries.
This pressing and timely collection, due for release in October this year, brings together seven fictional stories by authors from the seven so-called ‘banned’ nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Covering a range of approaches – from satire, to allegory, to literary realism – it explores the emotional and personal impact of all restrictions on movement, and is testament to the importance of creative resistance in turbulent times. By commissioning new works from emerging and established writers from these regions, and giving them an opportunity to share their work in different contexts, we can bring our readers fresh and alternative voices from inside societies which are in fact characterised by so much more than just conflict. Moreover, the book acts as a celebration and a key insight into a people who are adamant to reclaim their dignity, freedom and self-expression, from the point of view of regional authors, many of whom are activists, artists and academics.
The celebration of Women in Translation Month currently running throughout August, comes at an ideal time in the lead up to the release of Banthology later on this year. This month is dedicated to recognising and championing the translated literary work of female writers worldwide, as well as their translators and publishers. In the spirit of this, we’d like to give a shout out to the work of several of the female authors within the book. Giving a safe and fair platform to those who are marginalised and shunned, which unfortunately are often female voices and narratives, is the central ethos of this publication and all those which will follow.
Among the several female authors featured in Banthology is Rania Mamoun. She is a Sudanese author, journalist, and activist with two novels previously published in Arabic, Green Flash (2006) and Son of the Sun (2013), and has been involved with previous Comma Press publications such as the Book of Khartoum (2016). Her first book of short stories, Thirteen Months of Sunrise, will be published by Comma Press in an English translation in 2018, and offers an intimate glance into the urban lives of Sudanese women through various narratives. Her input to Banthology shows the story of a girl seeking a better life whilst dealing with oppression and the restrictions of travel and movement imposed by the Trump administration’s immigration ban. Her work promises to inspire dignity, freedom and self-expression for women everywhere.
The book also features female authors new to Comma Press, such as Cristina Ali Farrah, a Somali and Italian poet, novelist, playwright, and performer. Her narrative centres around the quest to seek refuge and family reunification in the midst of the immigration ban.
In a global landscape more politicised and divided than ever before, respect and freedom of expression must act as the great equaliser. Banthology and future anticipated publications of the ‘Banned Nations Showcase’ endeavour to provide a literary platform as a means of opening up a wider dialogue to include much needed alternative perspectives.
Written by Saba Imran
Comma Press Marketing and Productions Assistant