Dave Eggers + Rafeef Ziadah at Equality Festival

  • 27/09/2018

Four years after we welcomed the South Sudanese main character of What is the What at the Festival of Equality, we can this time meet the writer of this world renowned bestseller. The American bestselling author Dave Eggers can not be describedin a few lines. At the beginning of 2000 he debuted with the autobiographical novel A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.  In this massive debut he reflects on  his parents’ early death and him raising his little 8 year old brother. It sounds like a tearjerker on paper, but that is not the way it works for Dave. The catching story is peppered with mild sniffs of humour ans winks of self-reflection. Always honest to himself and the reader, because he has nothing to lose. Sometimes cheeky, always right. In his later books he places himself in the background and gives - while balancing between literature and investigative journalism - voiceless people a voice. He manages to put the spotlights on stories of victims of crimes against humanity, all too often neglected in newsitems because not sexy enough or too difficult to explain. How he managed to put to paper the dazzling story of Valentino Achak Deng: the boy who fled his hometown head over heels; his almost biblical journey through a country divided by a bloody conflict, life in a refugee camp and his arduous steps as a US migrant, … This all makes What is the What a must-read for whomever wants to talk about migration. Just like Zeitoun, the deep digging literary-journalistic work that pictures the suffocating paranoia and failing of democracy after the passing of hurricane Kartrina by focussing on the incredible story of one man. Kafka in New Orleans, with Abdul Zeitoun, the picked out/at Syrian American victim as its main character. The man who ends up in a fucked up roller coaster paddling his canoe between the debris that shattered the flooded streets. How fast your civil rights turn out to be just a flimsy piece of paper at the speed of light when paranoia rules and policemen blinded by fear focus on a possible terrorist more than on desperate seniors hiding in the attics of their flooded houses. These are timeless books because the injustice described is timeless as well. Every day human rights are tackled under the pretext of safety. And not only in the USA. In The Circle he points out to the excavation of our privacy and freedom in this digital world in which all power, knowledge on private information and wealth are concentrated in the hands of only a few.Dave is not only a writer but also a human rights’ activist, graphic designer, editor and founder of his own successful publishing house (Mc Sweeney’s, named after his mother). Moreover he supported a number of great projects in which voiceless people are given a voice (Voice of witness), youngsters from neighbourhoods with a bad reputation are encouraged to write down their stories (826 National) or he offers the stage to young opinion makers and writers to design a visionary model of how they believe the future should look like (The Hawkins Project - The international Congress of Youth Voices).

We would like to let Dave get to know poetry performer and human rights activist Rafeef Ziadah. Anyone who saw her slamming on stage cannot imagine that there were times when she felt too shy to perform. The kicks in her stomach and the reproaches she got from a frustrated young man in Canada made her doing her poetry on stage. This resulted in Shades of Anger, a standing ovation and a theatre filled to the brim. Never before did poetry find its way under one’s skin all to the way to ones’ bones. A lump in the throat. A deep breath. A kick in the butt. In 2009 she published her debut album Hadeel. Six years later it was succeeded by the spoken word album We teach Life, Sir. Those who have heard Rafeef say these four simple words will never forget them. We. Teach. Life. Sir. The scream of anger and frustration never sounded that poetical, as an exhausting dance of words and sounds that makes your head spin for minutes. Today Rafeef Ziadah lives in London. She travels around the world as a performance poet to let her voice be heard on life in exile and creates words to visualise suppression. You tube video’s of her slams are shared and liked innumerable times. Can art really save the world? Anyway it just might inspire people never to give up. It can entangle complex conflicts by showing the commonness and human side of a story. It can poke, touch, inspire, challenge...

A Festival Talk about how literature can make us understand complex reality and layered issues by means of human and everyday stories. They might make you lift your butt and fight for human rights and human dignity. About what is does to a person being the spokesman of unheard voices. About words that poke and an art that inspires never giving up the battle for justice.

Festival Talk at Equality Festival
Balzaal Vooruit
December 14th 9 pm

This Festival Talk is English spoken.
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