Nora Lester Murad and Danna Masad, Rest in My Shade: A Poem about Roots (Olive Branch Press and Interlink Publishing Group, Fall 2018).

Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this book?

Nora Lester Murad & Danna Masad (NLM & DM): The impetus for the original story was a writing prompt at a workshop led by Randa Abdel Fattah and run by the Palestine Writing Workshop at Tamer Institute in Ramallah. Over several years, the adult story that Nora drafted morphed into a children’s story with Danna’s playful contributions and finally into a poem (a genre new to both of us). The many iterations of the poem were propelled by a deeply respectful and creative collaboration between the author and co-author. We seemed to approach nearly every word and sentence from a different perspective and, as a result, our conversations were rich and consuming. For example, Danna pointed out that we cannot include draught without also including the quenching rain, because nature is not only harsh but also nurturing. In another example, Nora suggested a relationship between olive trees and almond trees. In a way, the protagonist of the book—an ancient, uprooted olive tree—also played a role in the creation of the book because it was to her that we tried to remain accountable throughout the process. We were both moved by the continuing Nakba and inspired by the relationship between the elders in our families and their olive trees.

J:  What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the book address?

NLM & DM: The book addresses the topic of displacement, including violent displacement, and its effect over time on identity, belonging, and community. Because the story is told from the perspective of a tree, it is also an environmental book of sorts—inviting us to think about how the natural world “thinks” of humanity. Designed as a gift book with poetry and art, adult readers can look at it over and over again while also sharing the book with younger generations as they learn about the Palestinian Nakba and other migration crises of our times. The book is also useful in conversations about exile poetry and art, extraction and devaluing of natural resources and the human rights that protect them, and individual and community resilience by those who have been displaced, and those who have been left behind. There are so many examples: slavery, homelessness, genocides, human trafficking, and climate migration, colonialism like that experienced by Native American Indians, and the effect of violence, for example that faced by Syrians, the Rohingya, and more.

J: How does this book connect to and/or depart from your previous work?

NLM & DM: Rest in My Shade is a single-poem book, but it is not like other poems Nora has written because it synergizes with artwork made by Palestinians around the world. Both the words and art are integral to the whole experience of the book. Danna works with various types of art and design but has never authored a book before. It is notable that the curation of the art was as complex and enriching a process as writing the poem. The amount of artwork featuring the theme of the olive tree is almost overwhelming; we limited our search to Palestinian artists and, from there, sought a diversity of media and a wide geographic representation. The objective was not to illustrate the story but rather to tell the story in art, thereby synergizing with the words.

J: Who do you hope will read this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?

NLM & DM: We hope people will be attracted both by the poetry and the art. We hope it will be of interest to all individuals and communities who have experienced displacement, including but not limited to Palestinians. Rest in My Shade is a gift book, designed to be read again and again. We created a website to bring together resources for people who would like to use the book in discussions with faith-based groups, activist groups, or with children of any age. The most obvious use is in teaching about the Palestinian Nakba, but the story is of equal relevance to people who have experienced displacement due to poverty, climate, violence, theft of natural resources, trafficking, or people who have been and continue to be displaced by colonialism. We hope the book will affirm and help to heal displaced communities, and encourage the compassion that is needed to re-draw lines of inclusion so that everyone gets to feel at home wherever they are, even as they struggle to reclaim their land.

J: What other projects are you working on now?

NLM & DM: Nora is working simultaneously on three books. She is editing an anthology of reflections by foreigners who have been transformed by Palestine. The book shows the wide diversity of ways that foreigners have engaged with Palestine and been affected in far-reaching ways. Nora’s women’s literary fiction is called One Year in Beit Hanina. It tells the story of three women estranged for thirty years who must work together to save a child and end up threatening the entire system of Israeli control over Jerusalem. Her middle grade novel, Green Olives, is also set in Jerusalem. It is a coming of age story in the context of bicultural identity and Israeli military occupation. Danna consults on art and design projects.

J: Who are the artists whose work is featured in Rest in My Shade?

NLM & DM: The artists featured in the book are Fouad Agbaria, Tamam Al-Akhal, Motaz al-Omari, Hani Amra, Nabil Anani, Ayed Arafah, Rafat Asad, Rana Bishara, Ahmad Canaan, Ziad Yousef Hajali, Michael Hallak, Abdul Rahman Katanani, Suleiman Mansour, Dena Mattar, Marwan Nassar, Bashir Qonqar (cover art), Steve Sabella, and Ismail Shammout. They live all over, since 1948, including in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Austria, and Germany. They include some of Palestine’s most prominent artists as well as newcomers. Working with artists was one of the most pleasant aspects of the process.


Excerpt from the Book

Where are the goats that trimmed my weeds as they feasted?

Where are the garlic-scented hands that pruned my twigs?

Where are the rhythmic voices that sang to me in the language of the seas?