Translating 51 days

by Somaya El-Sousi, Hanna Hallgren and Jenny Tunedal

In the summer of 2014 poets Somaya El-Sousi, Hanna Hallgren and Jenny Tunedal were working together in a translation workshop via skype that had been ongoing for more than a year. When war broke out in Gaza, where El-Sousi lives and works, this translation workshop transformed into a daily conversation on war, despair, food, rooms, objects, women, children, mothers, intimacy, fear, news, weather and writing.

The differences and distances always present in translation work became enhanced and acute, as did a sense of closeness. The circumstances of war cut into our work and somehow into the everyday quotidian life of Sweden; as a shock, as a difference, as an acute experience of a lack of experience. The computer screen became, in El-Sousis words: “a blue window of hope”; the hope of continuing, linearity, future.

Continuity is complicated for anyone living in Gaza. Life is a secluded incarceration not only in space but maybe even more so in time. Future as well as political and personal history are constantly being cut off from and / or conditioned by a claustrophobic present. The disaster that war is adds enormous pressure and fear to this present, to the extend were chronological time seems almost entirely dissolved.

We would like to examine this sense of time and how it conditions the work of female writers in Gaza. We have gathered literary texts by women living in Gaza that were written during the 51 days of war and aim to perform a reading of how the temporality of war becomes readable, and possibly shareable, in these texts; as structure, as experience, as knowledge, as the unanswerable question: ”How long is that night, how hard is that darkness?” (from Somaya El-Sousis “It does not end”, written in late July 2014)

Our work and our friendship takes place on skype. During the conference we would like to use skype and together, yet apart, perform a poetic conversation piece on the temporality of war, of literature, of translation and of friendship.


Somaya El-Sousi is a poet and a researcher at the Palestinian Planning Centre Office at the Department of Social Issue. The Centre is a governmental office in Gaza doing research on politics, economy and social issues. As a researcher I write studies and reports. All of them are published by the Centre in the Palestinian Planning Centre Magazine and distributed in Gaza. She has published four books of poetry: The First Sip of Sea Breeze (Gaza 1998), Doors (Cairo 2003), Lonely Alone (Cairo 2005), Idea, Space, Whiteness (Beirut 2005) – together with the poet Hala El Shrof Shier. Somaya El-Sousis poetry has been translated into English, Swedish, Greek, Norwegian. An ongoing project is ”The city” – literary prose on life in Gaza and its contradictions. The articles have been published at El Ayyam news paper in Ramallah and translated into English, French, Swedish and Korean

Hanna Hallgren is a poet, literary critic and senior lecturer at Linnæus University, Växjö. She has a doctorate degree in gender studies and is a member of several research networks, such as RAW (The Network for Reflexive Academic Writing Methodologies) and EUFRAD (The European Forum for Research Degrees in Art and Design). She is one of the founders of the new Centre for Gender and Language at Linnæus University. Hanna Hallgren has published several scientific articles and presented papers at numerous conferences. She is the author of six books of poetry: Ett folk av händer (Stockholm, 2001) Burqa (Stockholm, 2003), Jaget är människans mest framträdande sinnessjukdom (Göteborg, 2008), Manlighet (together with poet Johan Jönson, Oslo, 2009), Roslära (Malmö, 2012) and Prolog till den litterära vetenskapsteorin (Malmö, 2014).

Jenny Tunedal is a poet, literary critic and translator and senior lecturer at Valand Academy. She has published translations of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton and is the author of four books of poetry: Hejdade, hejdade sken (Stockholm, 2003), Kapitel Ett (Stockholm, 2008), Handflata: Du ska också ha det bra (Stockholm, 2009), Mitt krig, sviter (Stockholm, 2011).