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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.”


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


The Good Stuff

My mood has been a little down lately—family health struggles, no news yet on the book front, rising fascism in this country and around the world, and other calamities I don’t have the heart to enumerate—so I haven’t much felt like composing one of these notes. But there have been some bright spots—things to watch and read and see—that I’ve been collecting to share. And here they are.

Watch JURY DUTY on Amazon FreeVee. This is the best TV I’ve watched in a very long time, and I have recommended it to a dozen friends all of whom have loved it. It’s funny and deeply kind.

Watch this trailer and then go to the movie theater to see ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME MARGARET. Abby Ryder Fortson’s performance is phenomenal. Then watch the documentary JUDY BLUME FOREVER.

Read this beautiful previously unpublished story by the late Laurie Colwin in The New Yorker.

Read my spouse James’s Op-Ed about the Writers Guild Strike in The Guardian.

Check out this piece about Armenia’s vibrant new fine wine and dining scene in Food & Wine.

Read about Harout Bastajian, a Lebanese-Armenian artist renowned for painting domes in mosques around the world. He volunteered to paint a mosque in Dearborn, Michigan, and years later when he fell on hard times in Beirut, the local community helped him relocate to Michigan.

Read about Arno Yeretzian and Abril Books of Glendale, California, both national treasures, and then order some books from Abril to support their work.

Also, we made it through the winter. It’s Spring! Get outside and look at the flowers, the migrating and nesting birds, and the mushrooms that are starting to pop up.

Nancy Kricorian


Small Miracles

a cluster of crocuses growing in leaf litter

It’s not quite spring, but the crocuses have bloomed, and the daffodils are starting to show their sunny faces. It always feels like a small miracle to me when winter recedes and the trees start to bud, and this year’s flowers that bloom in a predictable series have lifted my mood.

We are packing up our apartment so the walls can be painted and the floors refinished—this hasn’t been done since we moved in eighteen years ago. I’m in a chaos of boxes with walls sadly denuded of all paintings, photos, and posters, and we will be decamping to Los Angeles for two weeks while the work is done. James is on the Writers Guild negotiating committee—their contract expires on May 1—and while we are in L.A., he will be in a hotel conference room from 9 to 5 every day trying to hammer out a deal. I plan to be working on an essay entitled “His Driving Life” about my father’s relationship to motor vehicles, starting with the Lincoln Market delivery truck that he drove at the age of nine when he could barely see over the steering wheel.

Our daughter Djuna, who as a second-year law student at NYU is working with the Racial Justice Clinic, learned two weeks ago that her first client has been granted parole. Upon hearing this wonderful news, I sent Djuna this quotation from prison abolitionist, organizer, writer, and librarian Mariame Kaba:

“I’ve said this to younger organizers and will repeat it here. To be involved in helping to free someone from the clutches of death making institutions is a profound and life altering experience. It’s a miracle. Make sure you take that in and then continue to fight for others. People say ‘well look at all of the effort it took to get one person out.’ And my response is ‘YES and it’s worth all of the effort. Keep going.’”

Djuna and her friend Will visited David twice a month at Fishkill Prison to help him prepare for his parole hearing, and they are now raising funds for him in advance of his imminent release.

Another bright note is that the anthology WE ARE ALL ARMENIAN has just gone back for another print run because the sales of the first edition have been so strong. This week the anthology was included in a New York Times roundup of newly published books. Columbia’s Armenian Center is hosting a panel discussion on April 3—the anthology’s editor Aram Mrjoian will be in conversation with contributors Chris Bohjalian, Scout Tufankjian, Hrag Vartanian, and yours truly. If you’re in the New York area, it would be lovely to see you there.

Nancy Kricorian


We Are All Armenian

My essay “Language Lessons” is included in a forthcoming anthology edited by Aram Mrjoian entitled WE ARE ALL ARMENIAN. Among the eighteen contributors are my friends Nancy Agabian, Liana Aghajanian, Chris Bohjalian, Scout Tufankjian, and Hrag Vartanian. My friends Dahlia Elsayed and Andrew Demirjian designed the beautiful cover. The jacket text describes the project thus:

We Are All Armenianbrings together established and emerging Armenian authors to reflect on the complications of Armenian ethnic identity today. These personal essays elevate diasporic voices that have been historically silenced inside and outside of their communities, including queer, multiracial, and multiethnic writers. The eighteen contributors to this contemporary anthology explore issues of displacement, assimilation, inheritance, and broader definitions of home.

The publication date is March 14, 2023 and pre-orders are being accepted now. Pre-orders are crucial because if they are strong the publisher is motivated to do more publicity and marketing for the title. You can go to the University of Texas Press site and use  the discount code UTXM25 to receive 25% off and free shipping. If you have a good connection with your university or public library, please request that they purchase a copy.

If you are in the New York City area save the evening of Monday April 3rd for a launch event at Columbia University. More details to follow.

Nancy Kricorian