Students visit the Edward Said Public Library on a field trip

Two branches of the Edward Said Public Library (ESPL) are now open in Gaza – one in Beit Lahia and one in Gaza City. The Middle East Children’s Alliance is the Library’s U.S. partner and we are so happy to join this initiative started by Mosab Abu Toha.

Children reading new books that MECA staff shipped to Gaza from the West Bank

The two libraries currently house more than 2,000 books in Arabic and English, regularly hold workshops for writers and teachers, conduct English language classes, and host visits for schoolchildren.

You can read an English version below of the beautiful words Mariam Said spoke at the opening celebration (from her home in New York). If you are an Arabic speaker you can watch a short video of the event and if you are not, you can read a translation of Mariam Said’s words below

English version of Mariam Said’s talk at the Edward Said Library opening celebration given online from New York to Gaza:

I am Mariam Said, the widow of Edward Said. I was his partner in life and now I am doing my best to sustain and expand his legacy.

Today we commemorate the 25th anniversary of Edward’s untimely death. We still mourn the terrible loss as we commemorate his extraordinary life and work. We are also celebrating the birth of the first Edward Said Library in the town of Beit Lahia, in Gaza, Palestine.

Edward had several deep passions to which we dedicated his life. His family, of course. The liberation of Palestine. And his love of books and music. English literature was the center of his professional life as a Comparative Literature Professor at Columbia University and he believed in the power of books. He was determined love for and knowledge of literature with as many people as possible, especially the young Palestinians.

Although the founder of the Edward Said Library Mosab Abu Toha was just a child in 2003 when Edward died and they never had a chance to meet, I feel they would have been great friends, talking for hours about writers and books. When Mosab says things like, “Books are very important. We can learn about other cultures, how other people think, how we can communicate with them, how we can understand them. Language is what makes us all human,” I know my husband would be honored that this wonderful project bears his name.

Edward was committed to providing people in the West with a clearer and more evocative understanding of the Arab world. People in the Arab world also want to gain a better understanding of the West. They want to read the great writers and thinkers whose books are in English.

Mosab made his vision a reality by reaching out to the world for support. I want to express my deep gratitude to who all those who contributed books and funds to establish the library. I also want to thank the Middle East Children’s Alliance for becoming the Edward Said Library’s U.S. partner organization.

The great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and Edward were dear friends for many years. Mahmoud’s farewell poem to Edward includes these lines:

By traveling freely across cultures

those in search of the human essence

may find a space for all to sit…

Books are a way to travel freely across cultures. Libraries provide place for all to sit.