In 2017 the U.S. Embassy in Brussels nominated Fatena Al Ghorra to participate in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program as a Belgian writer of the Arab diaspora. Fatena’s passion in life is writing poetry from the heart. She is one of the more than fourteen hundred writers from more than 150 countries who have been in residence with the program since its founding in 1967.
The International Writing Program (IWP) takes place at the University of Iowa. It is a unique conduit for the world’s literatures that connects well-established writers from around the globe, brings international literature into classrooms, introduces American writers to other cultures through reading tours, and serves as a clearinghouse for literary news and a wealth of archival and teaching materials. Since 1967, over fourteen hundred writers from more than 150 countries have been in residence at the University of Iowa with the program.
The IWP Residency program, which runs from late August to mid-November, is designed for established and emerging creative writers — poets, fiction writers, dramatists, and nonfiction writers. The minimum requirements are that they have published at least one book and possess enough proficiency in English to benefit from the Iowa experience.
Writers are provided with time, in a setting congenial to their efforts, to produce literary work. Iowa also introduces them to the social and cultural fabric of the United States, enabling them to take part in American university life and creating opportunities for them to contribute to literature courses both at the University of Iowa and across the country. Last year the IWP hosted more than forty writers. It was the 50th anniversary year of a program that celebrates its long-term association with writers.
“I was privileged to be a part of the 50th anniversary of IWP and blessed to have the opportunity to have such exchanges with forty-three other writers. It was one of the most important and remarkable experiences of my life,” Fatena told us.
“It was great to be among all these different writers and to be exposed to their cultures for an extended period. I was communicating with people in so many ways. It was great to see how poetry and writing brings us together.
At the end of the residency it was almost like we became family. It was interesting to listen to a lot of the lectures and panels with different writers, some of them from outside the program. Listening to all these authors were a very interesting and enriching experience in my life.”
After living in Gaza for most of her life, Fatena migrated to Belgium nine years ago. In 2016, she obtained Belgian citizenship. In 2017 the U.S. Embassy nominated her to participate in the International Writing Program as a Belgian writer of the Arab diaspora.
“As a Palestinian refugee based in Antwerp, I feel both Palestinian and Belgian at the same time. I don’t think it’s necessary to choose between the two. I’m a Palestinian-Belgian or a Belgian-Palestinian.
I love the language and the culture of my homeland, but as a citizen of Belgium I hope people will start treating me as a real Belgian because up until now that’s not been the case. My Dutch isn’t fluent, but you can’t expect somebody who has been here for only seven years to speak the language fluently.”
“One of my goals is to find a job and to have the same opportunities other Belgian people have. When you’re deprived of the chance to work, you also miss out on that daily communication with the local people in their own language.”
Fatena has started her own project called “Fatena’s Poetry Salon.” She tries to realize her dream by creating a literary meeting place where poets from here and elsewhere meet, read texts and translate each other’s work. She chose a “Poetry Salon” format specifically as it is an important tradition in Arabic culture. These kinds of salons are traditionally organized by poets who invite fellow poets to an evening full of recitals in their home?
During the poetry salon, Fatena serves as the hostess and performs her poetry. She invites inspiring artists and combines young talent with established names — the best of both worlds brought together in an attractive setting.
“My dream is to see this project become like a real festival. I would like to dream big and export this idea outside of Belgium, to other countries, creating exchanges between poets, writers, and musicians – a mix between music and poetry.”
My passion is writing, especially writing poetry. In order to be effective in writing you need to influence other people, like the great names that influenced me. So my passion is to write pure poetry from deep down, from the heart.“It's great to see how poetry brings us together.”