Granta 118 Launch in Tel Aviv

Yesterday I went to Granta magazine’s launch in Tel Aviv. When I first heard about it, it felt a little bit like worlds colliding. A few months ago I went to a Granta launch in Toronto; the issue then – Ten Years Later – featured a beautiful story by a friend, Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, and the bookstore in which it was held, Type Books on Queen Street (my favourite bookstore in Toronto) was so packed that we had to stand at the top of the stairs, leaning against the door, and listen to the readers without actually seeing them. Kathryn wrote a great blog post about submitting work to Granta for nineteen years before finally receiving an acceptance, and the post had inspired me to subscribe to Granta – a magazine I was familiar with but figured I needed to read more of – and to submit to Granta (I received my first rejection from them shortly after that.)

But Granta in Tel Aviv? That seemed a bit strange. Sure, I knew that Granta launched their issues in different cities around the world. And of course I knew there is a thriving literary scene in Tel Aviv (a scene I’m not a part of and wouldn’t know how to infiltrate, after living away for so long). But this wasn’t your everyday Tel Aviv’s literary scene, this was Tel Aviv’s literary scene in English! I was thrilled to check it out.

Granta 118, titled Exit Strategies, looks like yet another great issue, with essays by Aleksandar Hemon and Claire Messud and stories by Anne Tyler, Daniel Alarcón and Alice Munro. I can’t wait to read it when I get back to Toronto. The Tel Aviv launch took place in Sipur Pashut, a lovely bookstore in the picturesque Neve Tsedek neighbourhood in Tel Aviv, and it was, just like in Type in Toronto, completely packed. The event included a reading by Jacob Newberry, who is currently in Jerusalem on a Fulbright Fellowship in Creative Writing, and he read from his beautiful and moving essay, Summer, about four gay friends in post-Katrina Mississippi.  (Read an interview with Jacob about his ‘pilgrimage’ to Israel here).

The other reader, Daniel Weizman, gave a dramatic reading of an excerpt from a story by Judy Chicurel, City Boy.  Daniel, I found, is a student at the Graduate Program in English and Creative Writing in Bar Ilan university, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv! I never knew such thing existed in Israel! Some of the attendees that night were clearly students from that program, and as I walked around the room with a glass of warm punch (perfect for a chilly Tel Aviv evening) I heard them speaking  in American English about MFA’s and PhD’s, genres and workshops, literary mags and book deals. As I said: worlds colliding. It was just like being at a literary event back home. I mean, my other home.

It was a bit surreal to be there. I think a part of me was hoping to feel like I belonged in that scene. After all, I now write in English. But at the end, I felt a little bit like an outsider: I no longer live in Israel and I’m not an Anglo, like most of the people who came last night –  immigrants and visitors to Israel who write in their mother tongue in my hometown…  It’s the same old story: as an immigrant you’re bound to feel like an outsider everywhere. Nevertheless, it was a great evening and I’m so glad that I was able to be there for the first-ever Granta launch in Tel Aviv. Maybe if I continue to attend Granta launches in different cities around the globe then one day I’ll get to actually read in one. It may take nineteen years, but that’s okay.