This summer marks the release of the anthology The Beirut Call: Harnessing Creativity for Change, a collection from Elyssar Press that features the work of 21 artists, poets, professors, and activists exploring the theme of art as essential, especially in the wake of disasters.
The virtual book launch, hosted by the Shuffle Collective, celebrates this crucial anthology about resilience & resistance culture in Lebanon. Collectively, the art, poetry, academic testimonials, analyses, narratives, and stories in this work and demand social change.
Artists and Academics Speak to Art as Essential
Katia Aoun Hage, the founder of Elyssar Press, opened the reading portion of the book launch with her powerful poem “Beyond the screen in my palm,” where the speaker studies her phone filled “with faces of loved ones” while contacting family during the immediate aftermath of the Beirut port explosion.
After setting the stage, Hage welcomed Dr. Mitri Raheb, who spoke to the role of art immediately following the explosion on August 4th of 2020.
“Staying a spectator was not an option,” Dr. Raheb explained in the book launch, “we had to do something.” At the time, Dr. Raheb was in Palestine, where he is the Founder and President of Dar Al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture in Bethlehem, and he also wrote the foreword in The Beirut Call.
Dr. Raheb, along with Dr. Pamela Chrabieh and Roula Salibi are three key people who made this anthology possible. The team at Elyssar Press could not be more impressed by their dedication to the support essential art. This anthology is a result of that sentiment, with proceeds from The Beirut Call going towards Dar al Kalima University College of Arts and Culture, as a vibrant and critical effort to fund artists, arts NGOs, and small creative enterprises’ projects in Lebanon.
In the words of Dr. Pamela Chrabieh, from her introduction for the anthology, the “contributions to The Beirut Call inspire us to think about the impacts of arts and culture on cities and urban life […] as well as so many other facets of living.”
At around the 75th minute mark of the book launch, Dr. Chrabieh continued to share powerful words:
“We’re not looking for a light at the end of the tunnel, because we will probably not see that in our lifetime, but at least in our darkest hours, we are surrounded with people who shine—beautiful souls—who are both resistant and resilient.”
-Dr. Pamela Chrabieh, professor & artist
Featured speakers in this book launch also included Anthony Semaan, Carmen Yahchouchi, Cliff Makhoul, Dorine Potel Darwiche, Faten Yaacoub, Frank Darwiche, Joelle Sfeir, Katia Aoun Hage, Linda Tamim, Loulou Malaeb, Nada Raphael, Roula Salibi, Nadia Wardeh, Roula-Maria Dib, Omar Sabbagh, Rabih Rached, Wadih Al-Asmar, Reine Abbas, and Roula Douglas.
Other powerful dialogues, and ongoing dialogues at that, continued throughout the book launch. At roughly 25 minutes into the book launch, the writer Joelle Sfeir expressed how it is sad that it took a terrible explosion to bring some of these conversations to the forefront. Sfeir’s read an excerpt from her essay published in the anthology, which articles larger themes of living with uncertainty, and how:
“Living in Lebanon, we took uncertainty to a whole new level. Uncertainty became the impossibility to know what tomorrow is about, or even a a synonym to the unbelievable amount of resources and imagination we develop every minute of every day to solve stupid problems that don’t exist anywhere else in the world.”
-Joelle Sfeir, writer
Lastly, Linda Tamim reflects how hard it is to stay hopeful, as someone who does not want to leave Beirut. Tamim is a journalist and radio broadcaster based in Beirut. Her essay “A Story to Tell” in the anthology describes what reporting live from the port area every single day was like, back in August of 2020.
About 78 minutes into the book launch, during the Q & A, Tamim expresses her love for Beirut.
“I love the job that I have. I love my circle of friends. I love how life is here, if I live in my own bubble. But to what extent can one live in their own bubble, in these conditions?”
-Linda Tamim, journalist
Tamim’s declaration reflects a love of her life in Beirut. It also reflects an urgent cry that things must change to rebuild Beirut so that people feel safe to stay there. This anthology is a larger echo of the idea of what it means to love one’s city, while also demanding that cities transform into safer, more equitable, and more inspiring places where people can thrive.
For the full book launch, be sure to watch on YouTube and let us know your thoughts in the comments. Proceeds from purchasing The Beirut Call go towards Dar al Kalima University College of Arts and Culture, as part of a vibrant and critical effort to fund artists, arts NGOs, and small creative enterprises’ projects in Lebanon.