The Libyan linguist, philosopher and poet Monem Mahjoub will be reading his recently translated poetry as part of a two-part programme at the Passa Porta Festival featuring foreign authors living in Brussels. The “New Voices” event that is organized in partnership with PEN Flanders will be broadcast from Wednesday 24 of March at 15:30 CET and will also feature the Polish-Belgian writer and philosopher Alicja Gescinska, Italian-Somalian writer Ubah Cristina Ali Farah, and the Syrian Kurd Hosheng Ossi. A symbolical empty chair will be dedicated to the Turkish journalist and writer Ahmet Altan.
The programme is part of the festival’s effort to recognize that about a third of all people living in Belgium are of foreign origin or have another nationality. Moreover, never before has the country hosted more writers who have left their native country. Passa Porta and partners seek to give these new literary neighbours more visibility through their ‘Brussels International’ programme. This reading resonates with the very core mission of the festival, a multilingual event organized every two years by the international house of literature that welcomes writers, thinkers and artists from around the world to the heart of Belgium. This year, the festival is entirely online and lasts 8 days starting on the 21 of March.
To learn more about the programme and reserve your free tickets for both “New Voices” programmes, visit this page. The online programme will be available online until 5 April.
Monem Mahjoub is not only a linguist, philosopher and poet, but also a historian and political critic that has written countless articles and more than 25 books. As a result of his critical publications on Muslim fundamentalism, he received physical and verbal death threats. He has been able to find temporary refuge as an ICORN poet in residence in Brussels thanks to a coalition between the international house of literature Passa Porta and the Brussels university VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel). Since his arrival to Belgium in 2019, he has been able to work in safety on a book of philosophical essays about identity and a study of the twelfth-century Arab scholar Ibn Bajja (Latin: Avempace).
Poetry has also been part of Mahjoub’s literary practice from early on. In 1989 he published his first collection of poems, The Book of Illusions in Beirut, followed in 2003 by Recital, published
in Tunisia. He describes the role of poetry in his life saying:
“I cannot imagine a whole life of poetry for myself. I write poetry whenever I feel the need to "reset"; myself and to live life as I can imagine it. As a form of remedy, perhaps. In my poems, I do not flee from life; I use poetry to find the meaning of the life I seek. If we turn our back on poetry, we get homesick and go back to it with greater desire.”
You can read Mahjoub’s “War Poems” in English, French and Dutch. In April 2020, he penned a letter to the coronavirus, contending with the long history of viruses that humanity has had to