Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The New Yorker at Luminato

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Amira Hass

As part of Luminato 2011, we’re excited to partner with The New Yorker on a series of literary events over two days of the festival.

As the Middle East enters a new chapter, David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, will lead a discussion among an international group of writers and journalists entitled Rewriting the Narrative of the Middle East. Panelists include Amira Hass, Mona Eltahawy and Hisham Matar. The event will be held at the Jane Mallet Theatre in Toronto.

In the lead up to this discussion, we thought we’d profile one of those journalists coming to share her insights.

Amira Hass is a prominent Israeli journalist who writes for the newspaper Ha’aretz. She received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation. She has written two books, “Drinking the Sea at Gaza” and “Reporting from Ramallah: An Israeli Journalist in an Occupied Land.” Nick Hutcheson, New Yorker at Luminato Coordinator, reached her at her flat in Ramallah.

Nick: Tell us about where you do your writing.

Amira: Mostly in my study - a closed porch, overlooking a valley where some of the olive trees and rocks have not yet been replaced by buildings and roads.

N: What’s your writing day like?

A: I prefer to start writing my op-eds and columns in the early hours of the day (deadline by noon). The writing of news items and longer features can stretch along the entire day, till the late afternoon and evening. Collecting information usually takes longer than the writing itself.

N: Did you always know you’d be a journalist? What were your jobs prior to starting your journalistic career in 1989?

A: No, I did not plan to be a journalist. For many years I did not have a clear idea of what I wanted to do or could do, in terms of career. If I had a talent for music or math I would have certainly not become a journalist.

For some time I toyed with the idea of "enrolling for the academy", which I obviously dropped. I had several small teaching jobs (high schools and university), editing jobs, research and translation - until I became a copy editor at Ha’aretz news desk.

N: Can you talk about measuring fact and feel, qualitative vs. quantitative observations?

A: Journalists are not robots. Being conscious of the "feel" is by itself a measure of precaution and a tool of precision. An example: if I interview someone I dislike, I'll make sure to record the interview (rather than write it down – as many journalists prefer to do, because it's less time consuming), thus I make sure that my feel has not caused me to distort a sentence or a meaning. I'll refrain from paraphrasing and mostly use quotes.

N: When is the moment you know you’ve done enough research and can start writing about a subject, does that moment exist?

A: Very rarely does this moment exist. Sometimes I take a conscious decision to stop the research and the questioning: be it because of time constraints, or space, or the realization that for the time being I am not able to reach more sources, or that the sources would not give more information. There is a difference between a piece of news and a longer article, too. Sometimes I have given up on a long article - which was almost finished - because I felt that something was missing.

N: You’ve written recently that you don’t like predicting what will happen, can you elaborate on that?

A: It's about how much you let official factors distract the attention from the present, by elaborating on futuristic plans and promises that are often hollow.

Journalism does have to provide information about events that happened, policies that are being executed, and not be a mouthpiece of Power. There is place for analysis which naturally includes some predictions, for example - the danger that nuclear plants pose. Or the social dangers – beyond the immorality - of discriminating against one group of citizens and favoring another group. What I meant was the tendency to spend much time and newspaper inches on guesses and empty promises, at the expense of documenting the actual events.

N: Is there a time in history that makes you think, “wow, to be there for that”.

A: A science fiction machine that'd take me back in time? Then of course: Kerala, India - in the 1950's.

N: Do you ever revisit old articles you’ve written?

A: Yes, I sometimes need to remind myself of facts, or an idea. Sometimes I like what I wrote. Sometimes - especially when I read my early articles from Gaza or from the West Bank - I am embarrassed to discover how little I knew.

N: What are you reading right now?

A: 1491 by Charles G. Mann and two Israeli novels (in Hebrew, of course) - one by a young writer, Almog Behar - "Chahle ve Hezkel"; the other - by an older writer - Yoram Kaniuk - "TASHAH" (1948).

Amira Hass will be appearing with David Remnick, Mona Eltahawy and Hisham Matar at the Jane Mallet Theatre on June 12, 4pm. Tickets can be purchased at Luminato.com

Nick Hutcheson is a Toronto-based arts producer.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Devyani Saltzman

Devyani Saltzman is a Canadian writer. She is the author of Shooting Water, a memoir, as well as articles for The Globe and Mail, The Atlantic Monthly, Marie Claire, TOK: an anthology of new Toronto writing, The Literary Review of Canada and Tehelka, India's weekly known for arts and investigative journalism. She is currently Curator of Literary Programming for Luminato, Toronto's Festival of Arts and Creativity.

Go to Devyani Saltzman’s Author Page