Packed, polite house for controversial Writers’ Week appearance

Weeks of public controversy over Palestinian-American writer Susan Abulhawa’s inclusion in Adelaide Writers’ Week prompted a packed house when she spoke this morning.

Mar 07, 2023, updated Mar 07, 2023
Susan Abulhawa at Writers' Week. Photo: Tony Lewis

Susan Abulhawa at Writers' Week. Photo: Tony Lewis

There were no protests at the event, which came after Premier Peter Malinauskas on Friday said he had considered defunding Writers’ Week because he was “genuinely disturbed” by Abulhawa’s social media comments on Ukraine.

Comments about Israel from another participant, Mohammed El-Kurd, also ignited fury.

Some event backers pulled their sponsorship, Ukrainian writers cancelled their involvement and there were calls for new Writers’ Week director Louise Adler to resign.

All seats were filled as Abulhawa this morning joined a panel to talk about literature telling an alternative story about the “dispossession” of Palestinian people.

David Denborough was in the audience to support Louise Adler, a daughter of Holocaust survivors, and her staff for their “extraordinary, thoughtful leadership” in “an attempt to have voices of Palestinian people heard”.

Sal Humphreys wanted to hear the author’s opinion on Israel-Palestine, adding that she is a “wonderful author and there’s a lot more to her than a few tweets”.

Abulhawa is the executive director of the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, and the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine, an international children’s NGO upholding the Right to Play for Palestinian children.

She was born to refugees, moved to the United States as a teenager, then established a career in medical science before shifting into writing, and now lives in Pennsylvania.

On Saturday, Abulhawa, issued a message saying she was “grateful to finally be on my way to Adelaide”.

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“I wasn’t sure I was going to make it because the campaign to keep me, Mohammad El-Kurd, and other Palestinian writers from taking part in the Adelaide Writers Week was quite intense,” she said.

Today, Abulhawa thanked Adler for inviting many Palestinian writers to the festival when they were “muted usually by exclusion”, adding that “people like her are important to have for the intellectual health of societies”.

Katherine Walsh was also in the audience with her young daughter, saying she wanted to hear the reasons behind Abulhawa’s controversial tweets, saying she is half Palestinian and has admired Abulhawa for many years as a writer.

Katherine Walsh at the Writers’ Week panel. Photo: Tony Lewis

Palestinian poet Mohammed El-Kurd appeared earlier this week, saying he had stopped trying to peacefully persuade people about Palestine’s right to exist, even if it meant people were up in arms at his participation in Writers’ Week.

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