Author Archives: NK

Spring Flowers

It is a great relief that winter is over—I find that the parade of spring flowers makes everything slightly more bearable. April is National Poetry Month, and I can recommend Two of Haya Abu Nasser’s beautiful and moving new poems, which posted on The Evergreen Review this week. In a recent issue of the New York Review of Books, Mosab Abu Toha’s poem “The Moon” was stunning, and I was bowled over by Ibrahim Nasrallah’s “Palestinian.”

Thanks to everyone who has donated to Haya’s brother Ahmed’s fundraiser, his cousin was able to register him at the Cairo travel office. Now we wait for his name to appear on the Gaza crossing list. We are not far from reaching our goal so that his upcoming medical, educational, and living expenses will be covered, and it would be a great help if you could share the GoFundMe link with people who might donate. I will keep you updated on how things develop.

My spouse James was quoted in a Variety article about Jewish creatives signing a letter in support of filmmaker Jonathan Glazer, whose speech at the Oscars caused a stir. James also signed another letter by Jewish Columbia faculty members rejecting the weaponization of claims of anti-Semitism.

A hybrid documentary short film entitled “The Script”, which was co-directed by our progeny Noah Schamus, is up on The New Yorker. And their debut feature Summer Solstice was picked up for distribution by Cartilage Films, and will be opening in New York City in mid-June.

I recently learned from Red Hen Press that the official publication date for my new novel, The Burning Heart of the World, will be April 1, 2025. We already have a beautiful cover featuring a digital collage by Mariam Tamrazyan, but the publicist recommended that I not share it publicly until six months before the launch. This novel about Armenians in Beirut has been a long time coming, and I’m very much looking forward to sharing it with you.

Nancy Kricorian


Love is a Practice of Freedom

Haya and her brother Ahmad on the beach in Gaza before the war

I am writing this with a heavy heart. Today’s images from the ruins of Al Shifa Hospital have me reeling. The genocidal maniacs have sunk to a new low, and Joe Biden is a full partner in this unconscionable carnage, which has killed and maimed tens of thousands of civilians and is designed to make Gaza uninhabitable. With the bombing of the Iranian consulate in Damascus today it seems they are pushing for a wider regional war.

I have been mentoring Haya Abu Nasser, a young Palestinian writer from Gaza through the We Are Not Numbers program, which was recently featured on The Rumpus. I have placed six of Haya’s beautiful and devastating poems in prominent literary magazines, including “At The Cliff of Death,” which was published by Mizna.

After being internally displaced four times, and spending months in a tent in Rafah, a few weeks ago Haya was able to leave Gaza and make her way to Malaysia where she is enrolled in a masters program in International Affairs. Haya’s family is still in Gaza, and she wants to help her brother Ahmed get out for medical treatment and to finish his BA degree. He has asthma, is malnourished, and was recently diagnosed with hepatitis. So Haya and I have started a GoFundMe campaign. Ahmed has only two courses left to become a Renewable Energy Engineer. The funds raised will secure his safe passage out of Gaza, cover his university tuition, as well as his medical and living expenses. Please donate if you can and share if you will.

My friend Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, a professor at Hebrew University who lives in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem, has been subjected to a campaign of harassment and was suspended from teaching because of her speaking out against Israel’s genocidal campaign in Gaza. Thankfully she was reinstated last week. During a recent interview on the excellent podcast Makdisi Street, she talked about ashla, the Arabic word for the scattered body parts that families have been collecting after bombings in Gaza. She expanded the meaning of ashla to include the scattered remnants of the Palestinian people, as well as the divided and enclosed Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank and Gaza. She said, “We theorize about the flesh, but Palestine…I’m putting at the center the scattered body parts, the body bags, and the dead bodies, the burned bodies.” I hope you will listen to the whole interview, because as painful as some of the details are, her analysis is brilliant, and she ends with hope. She speaks about the love that people feel for each other and for the land in Palestine, and she dreams of a future that is free of settler colonial necropolitics. As she puts it, “Love is a practice of freedom.”

Nancy Kricorian


Is This Democracy?

Our kids are watching a genocide in real time on social media, and they see the moral bankruptcy of our institutions—government, media, academy, cultural organizations—and they are enraged. Gaza is their Vietnam. Last weekend hundreds of protesters took over the atrium of the Museum of Modern Art in mid-town Manhattan, dropping banners that said FREE PALESTINE and LONG LIVE GAZA. They filled that large hall with chants for freedom and against the corruption of the museum’s trustees. It was a bold, beautiful action and a feat of brilliant organizing. But the U.S.-made and subsidized bombs continue to rain down on Gaza, children are dying, people are starving, and nothing we have done these past months seems to be having an impact on the depraved and cruel slaughter.

On social media, Palestinian poet Mosab Abu Toha wrote, “I don’t know what democracy means for the Western world! Every time we hear Westerners making fun of the Arabs that ‘they don’t have democracy like us!’ That we in the Arab world cannot protest against dictators, etc. Well, I don’t think you in the West have democracy at all. How many times have people taken to the street demanding a ceasefire in Gaza!? What did your western governments do to listen to your democratic action? On the contrary, they never stopped supporting our slaughter with bombs and cash, they hurried to cut funds that attempt to help us in our tents.”

Through We Are Not Numbers, for the past month I have been mentoring Haya Abu Nasser, an extraordinarily talented young Palestinian writer who is internally displaced in Gaza and living in a tent after having been displaced four times. Haya has only intermittent access to the Internet and to electricity, and is under constant threat of bombardment. All of our communication is via WhatsApp messaging, and every morning I check to see if she has answered me, to make sure that she has survived another night. She wrote a beautiful and devastating essay entitled “Surviving Beneath Gaza’s Tempest Skies” about her daily life. I have recently begun submitting her poems to literary magazines. The first fruit of that effort was placing “Remember Our Names” with Scoundrel Time, and this poem was featured in LitHub Daily on 6 February. Since then we have placed two poems with Evergreen Review and one with Guernica for upcoming publication.

As the heart breaks and breaks again watching a horrific genocidal campaign against the Palestinians of Gaza, a campaign that has the full-throated support of the Biden Administration (ignore the bleating complaints and look at the weapons and cash being sent to keep the murder machine running), my best hope is our solidarity and witness. Read this nuanced and melancholy piece by my friend Mashinka Firunts Hakopian about Armenian-Palestinian solidarities. Don’t look away from Gaza. Don’t stop speaking out for Palestine. As Vasily Grossman put it in his magisterial World War II novel Life and Fate“Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil, struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is humane in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.”

Nancy Kricorian


Two Fronts

Armenian Refugee camp at Ras al Ain

I have been distracted, lately cycling between rage and grief, while having difficulty sleeping. Images and stories about Israel’s horrific genocidal campaign in Gaza are the stuff of nightmares. I often think about my Armenian genocide survivor grandmother’s stories about her experiences during The Deportations. They were starving, the dead and dying were all around, and she ended up one among 8,000 orphaned Armenian children in a refugee camp in the Syrian desert on the outskirts of Ras al Ain.
 
I wake up in the middle of the night to check Instagram and WhatsApp to see if my friends in Gaza have posted updates or responded to my messages. I want to know whether they have survived to see another day. One of them has lost thirty pounds because of how little food there is. Another has been displaced four times and is living in a tent.
 
Since 2015, I have been part of the We Are Not Numbers literary mentorship program that pairs established authors with young writers in Gaza. Enas, one of my former mentees, left Gaza for the first time in her life to attend the Palestine Writes conference in September, and was unable to return home—she’s living with an aunt in New Jersey and is worrying around the clock about her family, who are displaced in Gaza with little access to clean water, adequate food, and medicine, and under constant threat of being killed in Israel’s indiscriminate bombing campaign that has to date murdered over 11,000 children. I helped raise money for Hossam, another mentee, who has a large social media presence and is therefore a particular target, to get across the border with his family, but the list is long and the wait seems interminable. I started with a new mentee, Haya, several weeks ago, and I’m sick with worry about her and Hossam. I recently worked with Haya on this moving piece about what daily life is like for her right now.
 
In addition to this brutal reality, repression on the Columbia and Barnard campuse are entirely bonkers, and my spouse James, who has been teaching at Columbia for over thirty years, is spending hours writing letters to the new “Task Force on Anti-Semitism.” This task force includes no actual experts on the subject—and there are a few of those on the faculty who might have been invited to join. The task force is co-chaired by known Israel boosters, and when James asked them how they define anti-semitism, they replied that they don’t have a definition. They are just getting a sense of the feelings and the vibes on the campus. Meanwhile, two weeks ago several Israeli students used a banned chemical weapon against a protest on the Quad, sending close to a dozen students to the hospital. 
 
On the German cultural scene, it seems that collective guilt about the Holocaust has morphed into a feeling that Germany must stand by Israel no matter how genocidal the Israeli government’s actions are. An artist friend, who lives half-time in Berlin and half-time in Brooklyn, has been sending us weekly updates about the cancellations and other forms of punishment being meted out against writers and artists who call for a ceasefire or advocate for accountability. She told us about her friend the Bosnian-Serbian novelist Lana Bastašić (I read her award-winning novel CATCH THE RABBIT recently and was very impressed) who has been subject to this harsh discipline. This week I saw Lana’s principled and humane statement on Instagram, which was then published on LitHub.
 
It is clear that we need to be fighting on two fronts—and excuse me for using military metaphors, but this really does feel like a struggle for survival. We must redouble our calls for a ceasefire and our efforts to push the Biden Administration to stop arming, funding, and providing diplomatic cover for a genocide in Gaza. On the same day that the International Court of Justice ruled that South Africa had presented a plausible case of genocide against Israel, the U.S. government announced it was “pausing” its support for UNRWA, the largest and most effective aid agency on the ground in Gaza, increasing the threat of more deaths by hunger and disease. You can donate to UNRWA’s life-saving work here. And at the same time that we take action to stop a genocide, we must also push back against the silencing of advocacy for Palestinian freedom. 
 




Antidote to Despair

Manhattan Bridge, 26 November 2023

Several weeks ago I saw a post on X (formerly Twitter) that asked, “Anyone else struggling to maintain ‘Work-Genocide’ balance lately?” Watching mass murder in real time on social media is a circle of hell I never thought to inhabit. I cycle between grief, rage, and shame as I witness U.S.-made “bunker buster” bombs raining down on trapped civilians in Gaza while our government underwrites, arms, and provides diplomatic cover for Israel’s genocidal campaign.

Right now, we are engaged in two struggles—one is to get what UNICEF has called a war against children in Gaza to stop, and the other is to push back against McCarthyite repression on campuses and in workplaces. Close to home, Columbia University’s administration has been using repressive tactics against student groups, and our friends at Palestine Legal have been working from dawn until dusk to defend people around the country who are being doxxed, harassed, threatened, and fired for speaking out against what is happening in Gaza.

And while eyes are focused on Gaza, settler and Israeli army violence in the West Bank has reached unseen levels. At the same time, the Armenians of Jerusalem are facing an existential threat as a despicable land grab is underway in the Armenian Quarter.

Tired of my own hand-wringing and too many hours spent on Instagram looking at horrific images, I joined a large pro-ceasefire demonstration last Sunday that shut down the Manhattan Bridge for over three hours. As horrible as the situation is in Gaza, there was joy and power in joining with 1,500 like-minded people to chant, “Down, down with occupation! Up, up with liberation!” The only antidote to despair is action—and the most powerful and effective actions are taken with others.

P.S. For further reading, I recommend the articles below.

Anne Boyer’s beautifully written letter announcing her resignation as the poetry editor of the New York Times Sunday Magazine because of the paper’s poor and biased coverage.

My friend Adania Shibli interviewed by The Guardian’s John Freeman on language, writing, silence, and Palestine

My friend and former mentee Hossam on Life and Death Under the Bombs in Gaza. You can follow him on Instagram.

My friend Patty Kaishian’s beautiful piece, “Guardians of the Land: Understanding the Genocide Against Armenians in Artsakh.”


What Gives Me Hope

Jewish Voice for Peace protest in Washington, D.C., 18 October 2023

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In the midst of all the terrible news, a brief post.

This is a good moment to recommend the work of my friend Adania Shibli, who has been in the crosshairs of the current wave of repression and the attempts to silence Palestinian voices. The scheduled awards ceremony at the Frankfurt Book Fair for her gem of a novel Minor Detail was canceled, setting off a firestorm of criticism, prompting withdrawals from the fair, and generating statements of solidarity. The furor has resulted in a mass run on her book, which is currently back ordered, but you can read the transcript of an excellent interview David Naimon did with her on his Between the Covers podcast and sample her spare and devastating style in this piece posted on LitHub.

What gives me comfort in this bleak, bleak moment? I find hope in the people who are standing against genocide despite it all. Yesterday my friends at Jewish Voice for Peace organized an inspiring mass protest in Washington, D.C. calling for an immediate ceasefire. They are saying that Jewish grief must not be used as a weapon of war. (About the suffering in Israel, and the weaponization of grief, please read Gabriel Winant’s excellent piece in Dissent.) And a handful of brave members of Congress, led by Representative Cori Bush (to date all of them black and brown except for Massachusetts’ Jim McGovern) have introduced legislation calling for an immediate ceasefire and the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

And here I will trot out my old motto from Grace Paley: The only recognizable feature of hope is action. Here are actions you can take today.

Contact your representatives to call for a ceasefire.

Donate to UNWRA, MECA, or to my friends at Sunbula for their partners in Gaza. A longer list of trusted charitable organizations can be found here.

Find a demonstration near you.

Talk with your family and friends about Gaza. The IMEU has a great explainer here.

Lastly, please check out this Books for Artsakh auction fundraiser. My donation to the auction can be bid on here.

Nancy Kricorian


Gone

I woke up this morning with these words reverberating in my head.

When we humans are gone, having pulverized each other and made the planet uninhabitable for our kind, this lichen will still be growing on its rock in the forest, thinking, Finally we can live in peace.

When I shared these words with my friend the mycologist, she said, “Knowing the fungi will inherit the earth brings me peace.”

Nancy Kricorian


My Heart Burns for My People

This is a note I sent to my Armenian friends yesterday morning.

Dear Friends,

We are devastated and heartbroken about the events of the past three days in Artsakh, and rightfully terrified of what comes next. We feel helpless. We are on social media reading desperate accounts from Artsakh, and furiously posting and reposting the dire news in the hope that someone will hear and possibly take action, but very few people seem to care, and governments issue toothless condemnations while a genocide unfolds. We are sending emails to and calling our elected officials. We are wringing our hands. We are gnashing our teeth. We know that they won’t be satisfied with Artsakh alone. They want their “Zanzegur Corridor,” and Aliyev calls the Republic of Armenia “Western Azerbaijan.” We are skeptical that Armenian political leaders are up to the task at hand, and we are skeptical that the opposition has a better plan. We are sitting in our comfortable homes while our people are being starved, shelled, and are possibly about to be slaughtered like sheep. Again. We can’t turn our faces away from the suffering, but we must turn our faces away from the suffering at least for short periods because it is intolerable and there’s very little we can do.

Ժողովուրդիս համար սիրտս կ’այրի։

I’m thinking of each of you right now. May the violence soon be over so we can grieve and mend. Sending you love,

Nancy

Nancy Kricorian


Day to Day

“Too much of a past, too little ahead, but wait a minute, we always lived day to day, so where’s the difference?”

~ Etel Adnan, Shifting the Silence (2020)

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Last week my friend Barbara Harris passed away after a long illness, and Gerry, her beloved husband of 67 years, asked me to speak about her activism at the funeral this Monday. Barbara and I met in 2003 through CODEPINK NYC and worked closely together for over 13 years. In 2008, The New York Times ran a profile of Barbara and the campaign she organized working to keep predatory military recruiters from targeting vulnerable high school students. Mel, a former CODEPINK NYC staff member commented, “Barbara was a gift to the anti-war movement and the activist community. Whenever she showed up to a demo, I felt like things were going to be okay. She had so much knowledge and such a calming presence. Cristina and I joked about making Barbara dolls to carry around for reassurance when things got rough.”

And speaking of things getting rough, yesterday Azerbaijan launched a full scale military assault against the people of Artsakh, announcing the planned “evacuation” of the Armenian population. Of course, anyone who was following the news could have seen this coming, but that doesn’t make it any less devastating. The use of the word “evacuation” clearly indicates a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Governments, NGO’s, and human rights groups have issued condemnations, but the shelling and terror continued undeterred. The Azerbaijani Army is known for its torture and beheading of captured Armenian soliders, and even civilians are fair game for their violence and cruelty. The fourth century Amaras Monastery, established by St. Gregory the Illuminator, is now under Azerbaijani control. And if the Azerbaijani government stays true to form, they will say that it’s an “Albanian Christian” monument and sandblast the Armenian inscriptions. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating to watch all this happening in real time on social media while the world does nothing. And Turkey’s ever helpful Erdogan announced at the U.N. General Assembly yesterday that Armenia must open the so-called “Zanzegur Corridor” allowing Azerbaijani passage through the territory of the sovereign Armenian Republic. This morning a “ceasefire” was announced and the Azerbaijani army took full control of the area. I’m dreading what comes next. You can follow what is going on via live updates from EVN Report and you can contact your elected officials using this tool from the Armenian Assembly of America.

Yesterday I also received word from my literary agent that she was closing on the last few open points in the contract for my new novel with Red Hen Press, a small, independent, non-profit publisher based in Pasadena. Red Hen will publish The Burning Heart of the World, a novel about an Armenian family in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War, in 2025. This submission process was long and grueling, and I cannot tell you what a relief it is that the book has found a home, and with a press whose values align with so many of mine.

I’m leaving on Friday for a two-week trip called “The Mushrooms and Culture of Greece.” My friend Betsy and I will be traveling to Zagori in northwestern Greece with a group tour led by several radical mycologists. If you follow me on social media, expect to see lots of photos of mushrooms, food-laden tables, mountain villages, and the rocky shore.

Day to day, I try to open my heart to the sweetness of this tough world.

P.S. For your reading pleasure, here’s an interview with our filmmaker progeny. And here’s an article about The Wisdom of Fungi.

Nancy Kricorian


Naming the World

Small red eft on leaf litter and moss on the forest floor.

As a child I went to a Pioneer Girls Christian camp starting in the summer after fifth grade through the summer after my senior year in high school. The now defunct New England Camp Cherith was on Lake Bunganut in Alfred, Maine. It was on the camp’s 130 wooded acres that I had my first experiences with hiking and camping and was taught how to build a campfire and to cook a tin foil dinner. When I was a counselor in training, we were required to learn the names of five trees, five wildflowers, five birds, five rocks, and five constellations. In the Nature Cabin, I pored over field guides, and at night the other C.I.T.s and I would lie on our backs on the mown hill staring up at the stars. I had always loved our large yard and garden in Watertown, turning up the marble steppingstones to look at the insects underneath or resting my cheek on the soft moss between the peach tree and the hedge of lilacs. Now I came to love the broader canvas of the camp’s forest, lakeshore, and rolling hills.

When I was a student in Columbia’s Graduate Writing Division in the 1980’s, Arizona poet Richard Shelton, who passed at the end of last year, came to deliver a Master Class. He had a warm and relaxed charm, and he read us a few of his poems that were full of details about the Sonoran Desert. He told us, “If you don’t know the name of a thing, you can’t fully see it.” He described the way that people unfamiliar with the desert would experience it as an empty space, but if you studied it the way he had, learning the names of the plants, the animals, the insects, and even the stones, you would understand its fullness. These words have reverberated in my head for decades now, and when I walk through the forest behind our Columbia County house, I recite the names of what I recognize—the wildflowers, the trees, the birds, and mushrooms. But I feel overwhelmed wondering about the names I don’t yet know for the ferns, the mosses, lichens, and grasses on the forest floor. As the poet Maxine Kumin put it, “Our ground time here will be brief,” and I wish I had begun this concerted study much earlier.

For the conclusion of my Beirut novel (no news yet—I promise as soon as there is anything to tell, I’ll send out a flare), I wrote a folk tale called “The Girl Who Talked with Birds.” I started birdwatching ten years ago as part of the research for this novel, which has avian imagery woven throughout the narrative, but also as an extension of my engagement with the natural world. The protagonist of the folk tale, a girl named Sosi, thinks to herself:

Sosi understood that each living thing had a name, and she wanted to learn what to call each flower, grass, and insect. Her mother knew many of the names, and her grandmother knew even more, but neither of them knew them all. In response to Sosi’s incessant questions, her grandmother said, ‘The Creator made them, and only the Creator knows the name of each and every one.’

Writing a novel is a way of creating a world, and, because of my interest in history and need for historical accuracy, of recreating a world, filling it with people, places, events, sounds, textures, and smells that are at once invented and rooted in lived reality. I want the reader to open the book and to be transported into the world that the characters inhabit. And the more I know about this beautiful, resilient, and fragile planet on which we live and the people and other creatures who roam its precincts, the truer this fictional world can be.

P.S. Our adult child Noah Schamus has a film premiering at the Provincetown Film Festival this weekend. Watch the trailer here. This nuanced, funny, and moving film is mom approved (I’m the mom, of course, but I’m relatively objective, having told Noah in elementary school that they gave the second-best performance in the school production of Romeo and Juliet). I’ll send out news about where you can see Summer Solstice when it’s made more widely available.

Nancy Kricorian