(Photo: Ahmad Shehadeh)
Award-winning writer and poet Hisham Bustani participated in the Bellagio residency program in 2017. During this residency he worked on the short-story collection A Last Breath Before It’s All Over. He is the author of five collections of fiction and poetry, and his second book in English translation, The Monotonous Chaos of Existence, was published in 2022 by Mason Jar Press.
A few words with Hisham
“The time in Bellagio gave me ample space to reflect on, and deepen, my ideas, and explore and deploy different literary techniques. It also gave me room to critically assess and edit my writing and weave a thread connecting the different sections and stories, so it became a whole – thematically speaking.
“The conversations with other Bellagio Fellows was one of the most unique experiences in my creative life. The talks around the lunch and dinner gatherings, and at other times, were eye-opening, providing much fruit for thought. Being around smart, ambitious, and achieving people makes one set the highest standard possible for their own projects.”
Composed of 32 short stories, and divided into four sections, A Last Breath Before It’s All Over trains an unflinching eye on critical issues of our time – including refugees, ecology, the patriarchy and nuclear threat. Bursting with literary hybrids, the book engages an array of techniques, ranging from internalized first-person narratives to wide-angle cinematic descriptions.
The four sections – the Book of Drowning, the Book of Horror, the Book of Indolence, and the Book of Desperation – take us from the private infernos of contemporary Arab life to the public myths that govern them, engaging themes of the home, consumerism and colonialism along the way. In one story, children are left alone in a car, frying under the merciless summer sun; in another, the sea is transformed from a symbol of tranquility into an insurmountable barrier.
It has been translated from Arabic by Alice Guthrie.
To find out more about Hisham’s work, read a review of The Monotonous Chaos of Existence, his latest book to have been translated into English. Or read “Packing for a Trip to the Sea,” “Suspended in midair, one-third flexion in the knee joints,”“Shooting at a Handcuffed City,” and “Settling: Towards an Arabic translation of the English word ‘Home’” – all short stories from A Last Breath Before It’s All Over.
Or you can simply follow him on Twitter.