After months of reading and reading, weeks of deliberating and discussing, we’re incredibly excited to announce the results of the 2019 Many Voices Project competitions!
Congratulations to our winners! We’d also like to thank everyone who submitted. We look forward to sharing these amazing works with you all!
Our poetry winner is Samuel Ugbechie with Monologue of Fire.
Samuel Ugbechie is a writer who builds apps and plays basketball. He has works published or forthcoming in Ruminate Magazine, Palette Poetry, Aurora Poetry, Nottingham Review. He recently won the 2020 Aurora Poetry Winter Contest, and his works have been recognized in awards like the Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize, Frederick Holland Poetry Collection Award, Into the Void Poetry Prize, and others. He tweets @sugbechie.
Our prose winner is Rosaleen Bertolino with The Paper Demon and Other Stories.
Rosaleen Bertolino’s short stories have most recently appeared in New England Review, Litro, failbetter, and Orca. Born and raised in the Bay Area, she received her MA in English/Creative Writing from SFSU. Now in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, she is co-founder and host of Prose Cafe, a monthly reading series, and at work on a novel, among other projects. More information at www.rosaleenbertolino.com
The process of screening manuscripts and selecting a winner for poetry in the Many Voices Project is an annual highlight for the New Rivers Press family. Each year finds us yet again amazed and grateful to receive manuscripts from poets practicing their craft in every corner of the world, and it is with a sense of humility and reverence that we approach our task of winnowing down our submissions to a handful of worthy finalists. After considerable deliberation, we have limited our final list to six manuscripts. As is always the case, we would be proud to publish any of these manuscripts, unfortunately we can only select one winner. Stay tuned for that announcement in the upcoming weeks.
Millicent Borges Accardi (Through a Grainy Landscape), a Portuguese-American writer, is the author of two poetry books, most recently Only More So (Salmon 2016). Her awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Fulbright, CantoMundo, Creative Capacity, the California Arts Council, Yaddo, Fundação Luso-Americana, and Barbara Deming Foundation, “Money for Women.” She lives in Topanga, CA.
Sara Biggs Chaney (Hagia Animalia) is a writer and collage artist from Vermont. She teaches writing and serves as the Associate Coordinator of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship at Dartmouth College. In addition to two chapbooks, she has previously published poems in Sixth Finch, Blackbird, Rhino, Sugar House Review, Juked, Columbia Poetry Review, Pank, Gargoyle, Thrush, and more.With her co-author, Michael Chaney, she has recently published visual poetry in Redivider, Puerto Del Sol, and New Delta Review, and prose in Spirituality and Health, Games and Puzzles Magazines, Sycamore Review and Hotel Amerika.
Helena Lipstadt(Our Dark and Radiant Land) was born in Berlin and lives in Los Angeles and Blue Hill, Maine. Lipstadt’s poems have been featured in Rattling Wall, Lilith, Bridges, Sinister Wisdom, Trivia: Voices of Feminism, Medium and Common Lives, Lesbian Lives. Her writing has also appeared in the following anthologies: The Challenge of Shalom, From Memory to Transformation, and Every Woman I’ve Ever Loved: Lesbian Writers on Their Mothers, Lipstadt is the author of two chapbooks, Leave Me Signs and If My Heart Were A Desert. Her prose-poem Do Widzenia won silver in the Travelers Tales’ Solas Awards. Lipstadt has also been a writer-in-residence at the WUJS Institute’s Arad Arts Program in Arad, Israel, and at The Borderland Foundation in Sejny, Poland.
Erin Malone (Site of Disappearance) is the author of Hover (Tebot Bach), and a chapbook, What Sound Does It Make (Concrete Wolf). Recent honors include the Robert Creeley Memorial Prize from Marsh Hawk Press, Radar Poetry’s Coniston Prize, and fellowship support from Kimmel-Harding Nelson, The Anderson Center, Ucross, and Jentel. Her poems appear in FIELD, New Ohio Review, Ruminate, and Cimarron Review, among others. Editor of Poetry Northwest from 2016 to 2020, she teaches poetry in Seattle. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @erinmalonepoet.
Samuel Ugbechie (Monologue of Fire) is a writer who builds apps and plays basketball. He has works published or forthcoming in Ruminate Magazine, Palette Poetry, Aurora Poetry, Nottingham Review. He recently won the 2020 Aurora Poetry Winter Contest, and his works have been recognized in awards like the Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize, Frederick Holland Poetry Collection Award, Into the Void Poetry Prize, and others. He tweets @sugbechie.
Shannon K. Winston (The Girl Who Talked to Paintings) holds an M.F.A. in poetry from Warren Wilson College and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor. She has previously published Threads Give Way (Cold Press Publishing 2010). Her poems have appeared in RHINO, Crab Creek Review, The Citron Review, The Los Angeles Review, Zone 3, and elsewhere. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and several times for the Best of the Net. She currently lives in Princeton, New Jersey, where she teaches in the Princeton Writing Program. Find her here: https://shannonkwinston.com/
Every year, one of my favorite parts of this job is reading through the Many Voices Projects submissions to see the kind of amazing talent and manuscripts we receive from writers the world over. And each year, it’s an incredibly difficult task to winnow those hundreds of manuscripts to a list of finalists. In such unpredictable times, it’s reassuring to know that great art is still being made. If I had my way, we’d have the time and resources to publish so many more manuscripts than we’ll be able to—any press could fill a whole fantastic publishing year with the submissions we’ve received.
This year, we’ve gotten our list of submissions down to the following eight finalists. We will have a heck of a time selecting a winner. But, for now, congratulations to our finalists! Stay tuned in the coming weeks for the announcement of our winner!
Ea Anderson (I Want to be This Girl), originally from Denmark, is a graduate of The Danish Academy of Creative Writing (forfatterskolen). She moved to Scotland in 2011 and completed an MSc in Creative Writing at The University of Edinburgh. She now writes primarily in English and divides her time between Scotland and the south of France. Ea is the author of Hun Bryder sig Langsomt om Hunde (She Slowly Cares for Dogs, 2009), published by the Danish publishing house Lindhardt & Ringhof (Athene).
Rosaleen Bertolino’s (The Paper Demon and Other Stories) short stories have most recently appeared in New England Review, Litro, failbetter, and Orca. Born and raised in the Bay Area, she received her MA in English/Creative Writing from SFSU. Now in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, she is co-founder and host of Prose Cafe, a monthly reading series, and at work on a novel, among other projects. More information at www.rosaleenbertolino.com
Carrie Grinstead (All Cause) lives in Los Angeles with her husband and dogs. She works as a hospital librarian. Her stories have appeared in Tin House, Joyland, Reservoir, and other journals. She was a winner in The Masters Review Anthology Contest and a finalist for the Driftwood Press Short Story Contest, the Robert C. Jones Prize, the Mary McCarthy Prize, and the St. Lawrence Book Award.
Matt Hall (Mummy Party and Other Stories) holds an MFA from Virginia Tech and currently teaches at Monmouth University. His fiction has appeared in Redivider, The McNeese Review, Fiction Southeast, and is forthcoming from Sequestrum. He is currently working on a suspense/horror novel about Asbury Park, New Jersey, where he currently resides.
Amanda Kabak (Unsafe Haven) is the author of the novels The Mathematics of Change and Upended (forthcoming in 2021), and her stories have been published or are forthcoming in The Massachusetts Review, Tahoma Literary Review, Sequestrum, The Laurel Review, and other print and online periodicals. She has been awarded the Lascaux Review fiction award, Arcturus Review’s Al-Simāk award for fiction, the Betty Gabehart prize from the Kentucky Women Writer’s Conference, and multiple Pushcart Prize nominations.
Darci Dawn Schummer (The Ballad of Two Sisters) is the author of the story collection Six Months in the Midwest (Unsolicited Press), co-author of the prose / poetry collaboration Hinge (broadcraft press), and her work has appeared in Ninth Letter (web edition), American Fiction 17, Necessary Fiction, Midway Journal, Compose Journal, Paper Darts, and Pithead Chapel, among other places. Her work has been nominated for both the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She teaches writing and edits The Thunderbird Review at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College. You can find her online at www.darcischummer.com.
Tracy Youngblom (Because We Must) holds an M.A. in English from the University of St. Thomas and an M.F.A. in Poetry from Warren Wilson’s low-residency program. She has previously published two chapbooks of poetry (Driving to Heaven, 2010; One Bird a Day, 2018), as well as a full-length collection of poetry (Growing Big, 2013). Her individual poems, stories, and essays have been published in journals such as Shenandoah, St. Katherine Review, New York Quarterly, Cortland Review, Minnesota Monthly, Great River Review, Briar Cliff Review, Westview, Wallace Stevens Journal, and many other places. Award include two Pushcart nominations in poetry. She lives in the Twin Cities and teaches English at Anoka-Ramsey Community College.
Anyone who knows me knows I love to read everything from poetry to true crime. The same goes for authors of color and different sexual orientations. If it has words and a great, original plot, I’m in. If I listed all my favorite books by LGBTQ and/or POC authors, the list would take you way too long to read, so I’ve included 16 of my top favorites. I hope you enjoy and find new material to read by marginalized authors.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Wilde’s Dorian Gray is a stunning and dizzying story of an established young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. Wilde’s compelling writing style will draw you into a magical world of vanity and shallowness, making these unflattering attributes seem appealing. This is one of my all-time favorite books that I will read for the rest of my life and you should, too.
Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Orlando is by far one of the strangest, funniest, long winded, and most enticing books I have ever read. Spanning three centuries, the novel follows Orlando, a young nobleman in Elizabeth’s England, as he undergoes transformation and exploration. Suddenly, Orlando awakes to find that he is now a woman, facing the struggles of women in the 18th and 19th centuries. The novel ends in 1928 with Orlando as a wife and a mother. To fully comprehend the intensity of this beautifully crafted book, you will have to read it for yourself.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
This book was not what I expected, but I was happily surprised. It is humorously written, but also intense in its context. It opens with Ayoola frantically calling her sister Korede with the shocking news that year another boyfriend of Ayoola’s is dead. It is satirical and clever, definitely setting itself apart from the rest. I love how authentic the characters’ names, traditions, and setting are to black culture. This is a comedy that needs to be read by all.
Moonflower, Nightshade, All the Hours of the Day by J.D. Scott
You may recognize this author’s name and you should! J.D. Scott is one of our forthcoming writers, the author of Mask for Mask, which is due for publication in 2021. This visceral collection of short stories combines reality with fantasy through a variety of unique tales. I’m not going to give it away, simply because there’s so much to narrow down, and also because you should read it on your own and find your favorite story in the collection.
Howl by Allen Ginsberg
If you aren’t familiar with Howl, then it’s time to get reading. This is Ginsberg’s longest and most famous poem, so if you are a fan of intensity, you will enjoy this poem and other famous poems of Ginsberg’s. The Beatnik Generation is one my favorite time period to read and study and a majority of my poetry is heavily influenced by authors of this time, especially Ginsberg. It’s difficult to adequately describe the brilliance that is Howl, but if poetry and raw, grittiness interests you, pick this one up.
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Magical realism is a fascinating genre, and that’s exactly what you’ll find in this romantic tale. The story is divided by months instead of chapters, and each month is prefaced by an authentic Mexican recipe that is significant in the upcoming chapters. In fact, food takes on a very sensual and mystical role as Tita, the protagonist, is faced with challenges and discoveries. This is truly an enticing, earthy, and sweet story.
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
The Hours recasts the classic story of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway in new light. This unique novel travels across decades between England and America as it connects the lives of three stunning and very different women. Starting in the 1920s and ending in the 1990s, there is a time period and story for everyone to enjoy.
I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood by Tiana Clark
Clark’s bold and electrifying compilation illustrates black history, pain, racism, identity, and the inability to escape the terror of the bloodied trauma of the past. Her voice rises from the South as she presents soul and integrity in her poems. Her striking language and vivid imagery will paint a picture that will leave you feeling redeemed and put you in each scene.
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
Here’s another one from the Beatnik Generation, except Burroughs’ Naked Lunch is a series of vignettes. They are intended to be read in any order, allowing for different takeaways depending on the structure. The stories are based off Burroughs’ own experiences with various drug addictions, bringing an uncensored look to addiction during the 1950s.
The Black Unicorn: Poems by Audre Lorde
Lorde is so unique because she refuses to be defined as just one identity. In turn, she writes as a black woman, a daughter, a mother, a lesbian, and a feminist. She is so visionary and there is so much anguish and tradition in her poems. There are a lot of emotions running through this collection that I can’t properly sum it up in a few words, so you’ll just have to read it!
Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
This celebrated collection sequences violence, the afterlife, queer experiences, racism, and police treatment toward black individuals. Smith’s daring and raw language encompasses the danger and outrage of living as a queer African American man in the modern world. Don’t Call Us Dead will make you cry, give you courage, make you angry, and make you proud of Smith’s strength and vulnerability.
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
This is a complex voyage about love, feminism, family, desire, and identity. This genre-bending memoir follows Nelson’s relationship with artist and fluidly gendered Harry Dodge. The journey of self-exploration and queer family making sets the fascinating backdrop for such a moving story.
Virgin byAnalicia Sotelo
Virgin is an outstanding and jarring look at womanhood from Sotelo’s own experiences. She combines mythology with biography as she conquers the tropes of femininity and explores Latina sexuality. Virgin will leave you wanting more of her gorgeous and flawless sensory imagery, such as grilled meat, golden habaneros, and burnt sugar, and a taste for exotic life experiences.
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
If you are an English major, chances are you studied Whitman in college. This is a classic that every poetry lover should read. If you don’t love poetry, you may fall in love with it after reading this enormous collection of nature centered symbolic poems. There are also always so many limited editions published with beautiful covers and artwork.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
If you know me, you know I love murder mystery, and Capote’s masterpiece is one of my all-time favorite reconstructions of a brutal murder. His composition is striking and his journalistic approach to the Clutter family murders is empathetic and mesmerizing. Through Capote’s words and visuals, you are transported to this small town filled with horror and distress, yet he does it flawlessly and beautifully.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
This one goes without saying. Although I love the book, I think the film is one of the most exceptional adaptations of a book I have ever seen. “The first rule about Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule about Fight Club is: you do NOT TALK about Fight Club.” If you haven’t read or seen Fight Club, you are missing out. This is revolutionary and a wild ride. You won’t regret it.
Nektaria Anastasiadou, author of “The Way to Baghdad,” which was featured in our 2019 publication of American FictionVolume 17, recently interviewed fellow writer, Rana Haddad, about her novel, The Unexpected Love Objects of Dunya Noor.
Nektaria Anastasiadou’s first novel, A Recipe for Daphne, will be published in the US and Canada by the American University in Cairo Press in February 2021. Her contemporary literary novel is set among the Rum, Greek Orthodox Christians, who have lived in Istanbul for centuries. Anastasiadou is the 2019 winner of the Zografeios Agon, a prestigious Greek literary award founded in nineteenth-century Constantinople.
Rana Haddad is the author of The Unexpected Love Objects of Dunya Noor, a social satire and coming-of-age story about a curly-haired, rebellious young photographer. The novel is set in Latakia and Aleppo, Syria during the Hafez al-Assad dictatorship (1970s-1990s).
Rana and Nektaria first met beneath the fretted iron awning of a café in a restored Neoclassical building in the Monastiraki market district of Athens on a summery day in April 2019. They met again on a warm October afternoon at a vegan restaurant near Syntagma, Athens’s central square. Their conversations about their work, humor in Middle Eastern novels, and freedom continued in correspondence between Athens and Istanbul after their meetings, and well into the 2020 Corona months.
“Many Middle Eastern readers were happy to read a novel that described their lived experience of Syria, rather than only what one hears about it in the Western Media.”
ANASTASIADOU: Can you talk about the genesis of Dunya?
HADDAD: It took me a few false starts before Dunya was born. The way I knew I had found her was when I stumbled upon her name, which I typed out not knowing where it came from. I was typing different names for days on end (maybe even a month) and none of them felt right, until I finally saw her name on the page and it had the ring of truth or inevitability to it. After deciding upon her name, I started experimenting with book titles, many of which were really silly and had a fake self-conscious ring to them. Then one day among the pages and pages of false starts I typed out these words: The Unexpected Love Objects of Dunya Noor, and then I knew this would be it—that I was no longer making the book up but that I would now be listening to her voice typing out her words. From then on, I felt as if Dunya was now writing the book, and I was more like her editor or typist. This was the first step.
ANASTASIADOU: What difficulties did you face in writing the book?
HADDAD: The biggest difficulty was to trust my own instinct and taste and not comply with the invisible pressure to fit into contemporary expectations of what a novel should look or sound like. Whenever I caught myself self-censoring or “copying” other writers, I deleted what I had written and continued to try to find my own voice. There was pressure to write an “Arab novel” or an “English novel,” a “literary novel” or a “chick lit novel.” You know all the new and endless categories created by marketing executives and PR personnel, academics and literary critics, not by writers themselves. In the UK, publishing has become an industry subjugated to market forces and academia, each creating what I think of as a straight-jacket for writers, who are being told by people who are not writers how they must write, or else. The pressure to conform is strong and counter-productive.
ANASTASIADOU: While trying to get A Recipe for Daphne represented and published, I was told by two agents that the book “needed some bombs” because “Western readers think of Istanbul as a place with terrorism and bombs.” I found this ridiculous and refused. Istanbul is an exceptionally safe city. I wonder if you faced similar difficulties while trying to publish Dunya?
HADDAD: Yes, it’s strange to be put under that expectation as a writer, to always have to include bombs, terrorism, torture etc. simply because your book is not set in Britain or the USA or Europe and your world must be so “unfortunate” and “traumatic” and “our readers would like to feel sympathy for you and thank their lucky stars that they don’t live in your country.” One publisher said, “It’s too humourous for a book set in Syria, can you rewrite it to make it sad like The Kite Runner?” Another: “It’s too serious for a commercial novel but too playful for a literary novel, it won’t be easy to market it.” And another: “Can you take out all the ideas and thoughts and just stick to the plot, show don’t tell…” Etc., etc. There was a lot of interest from publishers, but it was conditional upon re-writing the book in a way I disagreed with. It became a matter of principle for me not to do what they asked me to do despite the fear I may not be able to find a suitable home for my novel. Then after much to-ing and fro-ing I found Hoopoe Fiction, a publisher who did not want to change Dunya to suit their own theories about how novels must be written, not only in terms of style and structure but also world-view, mood and ways of presenting the world. The editing process with Nadine El-Hadi, my editor, enhanced and improved what I had already written. It did not detract from key elements, de-form the novel, or turn it into something that fitted into a ready-made box.
ANASTASIADOU: Previously you mentioned that Western editors had trouble with Dunya because it doesn’t play into the Western media’s conceptions of the Middle East. Could you talk about that?
HADDAD: I was told by one editor that people would be offended that I’d written a book about Syria which did not focus on the tragedies of war, but was primarily about love, as well as dictatorship and also had a humorous tone and upbeat mood. As this communication happened through my agent, I wasn’t able to reply that, first of all, the book was set in another historical era, not during the current war. (I had written the first draft before the war even started). Even though the UK, Germany, Greece, Spain, Italy, and even Russia went through devastating wars and/or dictatorships, many humorous and romantic books and films were set in those countries during these times. Why is it that if a story is set in the Middle East (or somewhere in the so-called Third World), it has to be tragic to be considered authentic? Without a victim narrative, a story from the Middle East would apparently cause offense.
ANASTASIADOU:What kind of reception did you have from American and European readers as opposed to Middle Eastern readers?
HADDAD: I had a lot of positive reactions from both. I felt many readers from the West had never read something of that nature about Syria or about the Middle East and found it refreshing to read something different. Some people told me that they felt it had a universal quality to it and so it did not matter that it was set in Syria or that the heroine was a young woman. I’ve had a lot of male British and American readers (the last one an 84-year-old poet from the States) who said they could identify with the novel and enjoyed reading it, and it made them smile.
Many Middle Eastern readers were happy to read a novel that described their lived experience of Syria, rather than only what one hears about it in the Western Media, so I had a lot of positive reactions. One Arabic bookseller in London told me that “it must’ve taken a lot of courage to write a book like that.” Because he thought it would offend certain types of people or annoy them, and that’s what I was expecting to happen and was nervous about it. But I was surprised at the lack of any negative reactions so far. I think the humor makes it an easier pill for swallow. Or perhaps none of the old-school authoritarian types have yet got their hands on a copy of it. My dentist in London, who is a young Saudi woman, read it and smuggled a few copies back to Saudi Arabia to distribute to her friends and relatives. She told me they all enjoyed it and shared it around. Also a few students at the American University in Beirut have written their final year papers about it, which I read and found fascinating. The book has not yet been translated into Arabic, if that ever happens it would reach a wider audience and the reactions might be rather different. I don’t know.
ANASTASIADOU: One of my favorite aspects of The Unexpected Love Objects ofDunya Noor is its brilliant use of profession for characterization. Dunya is a photographer, Hilal an astronomer, Joseph a heart surgeon, Hilal’s parents tailors. How did you choose their professions? How did you delve into them?
HADDAD: It’s difficult for me to remember how that came about! Most of it by accident to be honest, but then slowly I started to find meaning in their professions and link it to the narrative. It wasn’t all thought out in advance, it grew somehow organically. Maybe I do write and think in a slightly metaphoric way and this can lead to strange synchronicities.
ANASTASIADOU: On my second reading of Dunya during the corona quarantine, I was especially impressed by what the book had to say about freedom. In your characteristic blend of humor and gravitas, you write: “Was freedom, then, just the freedom to shop? Dunya wondered during that time. Or was it also the freedom to open your mouth and say whatever you liked without anyone taking any notice of you?” Ηow would you relate Dunya’s thoughts to our current experience?
HADDAD: Having left Syria when I was almost 16, I felt a huge sense of relief that I was no longer living in a dictatorship but rather a democracy like the United Kingdom where anyone could express their thoughts and disagree without fear of consequences or retribution.
I have found the last two months of corona quarantine very disturbing indeed. I understand the world is having a health crisis, but I simply cannot see the link between that and handing over the power to control our movements to the police, or the power to control our thoughts to tech companies who can now censor willy-nilly what they like. Overnight we live in a state run by the police and tech companies, while a large proportion of people don’t seem to mind that—rather, they are asking for more. The rhetoric of anger and even hate towards anyone who questions is alarming and has turned into open bullying. Seeing how fear can make even the most “democratic” nations shift overnight to demanding controls on their populations and harsh punishments for anyone who transgresses, I’m finding this hard to accept. It’s extraordinary how many are ready to throw away liberty for security when Fear rears its ugly head. The art of listening to others is fast disappearing, and this is the psychological hallmark of authoritarian societies. I always felt dictatorship is first and foremost an emotional problem before it becomes political, that politics are a reflection of a state of mind and emotions. Freedom requires courage and maturity in a large segment of the population. When fear becomes the norm, it’s harder to keep the right psychological balance.
ANASTASIADOU: Joseph Noor says to his daughter Dunya: “Because in this city, in this country, in this house the art of keeping secrets is an essential survival tool and a highly prized social skill. The price of failing to suppress the truth is very high, my dear, anything—from social ostracism to prison. Are you prepared to pay this price, Dunya? Well, even if you are, I am not.” Do you feel that there is a connection between Joseph’s words and the restrictions that we are now experiencing during the quarantine?
HADDAD: Things are not yet as bad as they are in countries with full-blown in-your-face authoritarian regimes, but there has been a sudden and very dramatic loss in freedoms of speech and thought. What I find odd and even disappointing about it, is that so many people want that and are calling for it. It’s not coming just from the authorities, but from people turning on each other and refusing to listen to differing points of view. This can still look like “democracy,” because it may be the will of the majority in a time of great fear, but it’s a sign of a psychological state that can easily lead us to a drastic loss of freedoms…rather quickly. I’m very surprised that this is how people are reacting. Having grown up in a dictatorship, I don’t find it easy to want to let go of freedom simply because I’m afraid. I fear the loss of freedom, more than anything—because freedom is hard to gain and very easy to lose. Also, I feel there are many ways of dealing with the threat of a virus that do not entail being aggressive to other people or using the Police to enforce health recommendations. It seems surreal and maybe it’s the reaction of a population who have become unable to live with any uncertainty and want all of life to be controlled so they can feel safe. With such a mindset, freedom becomes an unimportant detail or a luxury easily dispensed with. Imagine if some historian of the future writes these words down: “The nation of XX devolved into a police state as a response to a contagious virus…The people of XX accepted all new laws—many of which had no relation to health—without question or debate, because they were too worried about catching the virus and too busy purchasing toilet paper.” If we continue on this trajectory, our grandchildren will not thank us.
ANASTASIADOU: As someone who grew up during the Syrian dictatorship, can you tell me if any other alarm bells are going off in your head now?
HADDAD: I’m very worried about the role of the media. When I read the newspapers these days or listen to broadcasts, I have to pinch myself: “where am I?” The media more often than not describes or reports events in a way that increasingly reminds me of how events were and are reported in a country like Syria. Any opposition to the mainstream view is portrayed as extreme even if it isn’t, and regularly mis-represented and made to look insane, to justify a crackdown or to demonize certain points of view and intimidate people into silence. This is how bullying works between individuals, in small and large groups and politically, and this is how you divide a population to rule them, rather than how you encourage dialogue to bring about real solutions and progress. As I worked in the media myself for more than a decade, I could write an entire book about that, but luckily for you I won’t!