Classic Arab writers and poets like Al-Mutanabbi could not have imagined that centuries later authors would be discussing their masterpieces live with an international audience. Thanks to technology a global audience was recently able to access a recent Arabic literature festival called “Bila Hudood: Arabic Literature Everywhere.”
Bila Hudood—the name means “Without Borders”— brought together authors, translators, publishers and readers in an ambitious project that provided a needed respite from today’s world of pandemic and restrictions.
Held July 9 to 11, the festival was put together by Sawad Hussain, winner of the 2019 ArabLit Short Story Prize and two English PEN Translates awards, and Marcia Lynx Qualey, a freelance journalist based in Rabat who frequently contributes to Al-Fanar Media. It invited people to join discussions on contemporary Arabic literature in genres such as food writing, memoir, poetry, science fiction, fantasy and theater.
Panels consisted of authors from across the Middle East and Africa. Since the festival was online only, because of the pandemic, the challenges for organizing it were not as difficult as it would have been had it taken place face-to-face.
“I don’t think we could’ve organized this festival in any other time,” said Lynx Qualey. “Pioneer events like Palestine Writes, African Writers Festival, Mother Tongue Twisters, and the World Kid Lit events have shown us how vibrant and engaging online literary events can be.”
For Lynx Qualey, the inspiration for Bila Hudood was a World Kid Lit panel on Arabic literature for young readers. “The huge response to that panel surprised me, particularly how it forged new connections between readers, writers, publishers, agents, and editors,” she said. “We hope Bila Hudood will do the same.”