Twenty of the 25 nominated writers for the National Book Award in the US called for a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza.
This was reported by The Guardian.
At the ceremony announcing the winners on November 16 in New York, most of the finalists took the stage. After the names of all the laureates were announced, one of the writers – Alia Bilal – addressed the audience. Nominee in the fiction category for a novel “Temple People” read the prepared statement: “On behalf of the finalists, we oppose the continued bombing of Gaza and call for a humanitarian ceasefire to meet the humanitarian needs of Palestinian civilians, especially children“
Bilal also added that the authors are equally opposed to anti-Semitism, anti-Palestinian sentiments and Islamophobia. They understand that bloodshed will not contribute to peace in the region.
|Alia Bilal addressed the audience of the US National Book Award. Photo: National Book Foundation|
Refusal of sponsors from financing the award
On Wednesday, November 15, one of the sponsors of the National Book Award refused to fund the event. General director of sponsoring organization Zibby Media, Zibby Owenssaid that shortly before the ceremony, she was informed about a possible speech.
“All the award nominees banded together and decided to use the platform during their victory speeches to push a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel agenda. Knowing that I was a sponsor, my source wanted me to be in the loop.”– wrote Owens.
After that, she turned to the organizers of the award, and called the actions of the authors contributing to “discrimination against Israel and the Jewish people.” Zibby Owens subsequently withdrew her sponsorship of the National Book Award altogether.
|Book award ceremony. Photo: The New York Times|
“I know several other sponsors have had conversations with the NBF, including one who said further support would be unlikely if they allowed things like this to continue. Others chose not to participate“, the sponsor added.
Another sponsor, the Book of the Month organization, announced that it had also decided not to participate in the event, but would continue funding.
The press service of the National Book Foundation issued an appeal to the audience to assure the safety of this year’s ceremony:
“The political statements, if they are made, are by no means unprecedented in the history of the National Book Award, or any awards ceremony in general. We work with the organizers to ensure a safe environment for all our guests. Of course, we hope that everyone who attends the National Book Awards in person or joins in online will come away with a spirit of understanding, compassion and humanity – the very things that inspire the books we love“.
|Writers gathered for a speech. Photo: Beowulf Sheehan|
The organizers added that the words of the writers are now “more important than ever”.
The National Book Awards are collectively sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Macmillan Publishers, and Simon & Schuster. In addition, the award is financed by DIOR, TikTok and dozens of other organizations and private individuals.
How the situation between Israel and Palestine divided the cultural space
The National Book Award has been around for 74 years, and it’s not the first venue to divide the cultural community over the issue of the war between Israel and Hamas.
Earlier in London, an exhibition by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was canceled due to a social media post about Israel and Hamas, which he later deleted. As the artist noted, his exhibition was canceled, “to avoid further arguments and for my own well-being“.
|Slavoj Žižek at the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Photo: Arne Dedert/dpa/picture alliance|
At the opening ceremony of the Frankfurt Book Fair, the representative of Slovenia, the author Slavoj Žižek, condemned the terrorist attack by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas on Israel, but also called “to listen to the Palestinians and take into account their past to understand the causes of the conflict”. The Fair was also criticized for postponing an event in honor of Palestinian writer Adania Shibli. Before the start of the fair, she was to be awarded the LiBeraturpreis of the Litprom association, which is awarded to authors from the countries of the Global South.
Read also: In London, the exhibition of Ai Weiwei was canceled because of his post about Israel and Hamas