Behind the Checkpoints

by David Silverberg

Magazine  |  Fall/Winter 2018  |  Notebook  |  Behind the Checkpoints

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When Marcello Di Cintio, BA’97, BSc’97, took on opponents when he was on UCalgary’s wrestling team, he learned about courage and standing up for oneself. He learned about solitude. Those lessons would come in handy as a writer who frequently travelled to war-ravaged areas of the Middle East, such as the nine times he’s been to Palestine.

“If I can stare down someone on the mat, I can get through a checkpoint,” Di Cintio says.

In his latest book, Pay No Heed to the Rockets: Palestine in the Present Tense, the Calgary author and journalist sought to showcase a different kind of courage among contemporary Palestinians: the bravery to speak out through prose and poetry. 

Di Cintio interviewed poets, authors and scholars to uncover how their creative writing seeks to shine a light on the Palestinian people, beyond all the headlines about violence and upheaval.

“The West only sees Palestine on the news, when a mother is crying over her dead children or when a militant is throwing rocks,” he says. “But they have a full culture like anywhere else and I wanted to get to a starting point through their literary heritage. And I wanted to celebrate an art form that found beauty in a place that many people don’t consider beautiful.”

Di Cintio also wanted to demystify the notion that Palestinians only write about Israeli oppression, politics and burnt fields. “Their literary artists, like anywhere else, plumb the depths of lived experience for art and they write about love and family and everything you can think of,” he says.

Along the West Bank and Gaza, Di Cintio came across Palestinian writers with remarkable lives he couldn’t help but share, along with their texts. He spoke to a woman who ran away to the U.S. with an American cook when she was 18, living in a trailer in the Deep South, before coming back to the Middle East with stories to tell and poems to write.

Di Cintio previously profiled Palestinians in a section of his book, Walls: Travels Along the Barricades, which reported on people living against walls around the world. It won the 2013 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. 

He also led workshops with Palestinian writers while in the region, and it seems helping writers is in his blood: before he embarked on a career as an author, Di Cintio spent a year as writer-in-residence at the University of Calgary in 2009 and, this fall, the Calgary Public Library has hired him to be its latest writer-in-residence to assist writers with their manuscripts.

“When you work full-time as an author, you get into the business side of things with talk about royalties and conferences and print runs, but, when I work with young writers, it reminds me about the love of language and story, of why I got into writing in the first place,” he says.

Pay no heed

Magazine  |  Fall/Winter 2018  |  Notebook  |  Behind the Checkpoints

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