Yesterday was the first time I had heard of Octavia, and I spent the day with her after being introduced at breakfast time. Throughout the day I pieced together bits about who she is, and I was really looking forward to seeing her event. And it was amazing! For so many reasons! I’ll let my tweets tell the story…
I am in my first #shjibf presentation – the awesome @octavianasr talking about her passion for books.
Growing up during war meant there was not a lot of time for books but @octavianasr had a yearning to expand her world view… #shjibf
21 years ago @octavianasr moved to the us with only the clothes on her back… but got her friends to send over her books bit by bit #shjibf
Such inspiring words from @octavianasr about the importance of books… she is speaking off the cuff so eloquently #admiration #shjibf
‘I find peace in writing, I find love in writing, I find the world in writing’ – @octavianasr #shjibf
Fielding questions in Arabic and English – seriously impressive @octavianasr #shjibf
‘Seeing you today has been a personal disappointment’ – #shjibf audience is looking for comments that @octavianasr won’t/can’t answer.
Rowdy audience at #shjibf – so engaged! @octavianasr can cope, she is ace – coaching audience how to ask questions not just comment!
Advice to aspiring female journos – do what you think is right, be persistent andcreate the change you want @octavianasr #shjibf
You can’t apply old rules to new media, we need new rules for new media – hell yeah, @octavianasr! #shjibf
Octavia really blew me away – she spoke so eloquently and passionately about the importance of books to her and to the world, and also about her history as a writer and reader. Seriously inspiring.
After about 25 mins of talking the audience were invited to ask questions and that’s when things got hairy. Octavia is incredibly well known in the Middle East, and in particular her profile grew exponentially when she was sacked by CNN for a tweet she sent (yeah, shades of Catherine Deveny…!). The audience were really there to hear her talk about that, but she refused, saying that everything that happened is on public record (the internet) and she has nothing to add to the commentary. She has moved on. The end. (There is a good summary of the events in today’s article on Octavia in The National.)
But the audience didn’t accept it and kept posing questions to Octavia, who held her ground, gave back as good as she got, and kept her cool. I know others found the session upsetting or out of order, but I loved it! I have never seen a literary festival audience take a panellist to task like that, and really ask challenging and insightful questions. To be honest, you rarely see it at literary events in general, even when the panels are listed as ‘debates’. I was just so excited to see people so passionate, to hear people stand up and say, ‘well, I’m disappointed’ or whatever.
Generally I felt like the audience was split, and half were egging Octavia on and the others were disappointed. Which is pretty cool when you think about it. The best bit is that I have no doubt that everyone in the room came away with something to think about…
Anyway, I now have a big professional crush on Octavia. She is passionate and erudite and well-informed, a truly inspiring journalist of the new media order. You can check her out on twitter or her website.
The children’s side of the Sharjah International Book Fair has been abuzz with energy. Yesterday, after winning the 1 million AED Etisalat prize, Dar El Shorouk was presented with a giant symbolic check. In an afternoon panel about the book, the panel of four judges fairly gushed over Walid Taher’s prize-winning book, with two of the judges already calling it a “classic.”
At the Kalimat booth yesterday, there was excitement over the release of Fatima Sharafeddine’s YA novel فاتن, which is already getting strong reviews. Sharafeddine’s first CD (جوز وتين وتوت أحمر) , with music composed by Hani Siblini, is also available at the fair.
And later today comes the news is that Kalimat will be partnering with U.K.’s prestigious Orion to publish one of its books (I don’t yet know which one) in English.
I seem to have lost my camera cord, but I hope to at some point show you lots of photos of the wonderful books that can been seen at the fair.
SHARJAH // Octavia Nasr was saddened when Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, who was instrumental in establishing Hizbollah in Lebanon, died in July this year. But she had no idea expressing her feelings would lead to her losing her job.
Commenting on her official CNN Twitter site, Ms Nasr, who at the time was the US cable news organisation's senior Middle East editor, wrote that she was "sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. One of Hizbollah's giants I respect a lot".
She was without a job 48 hours later. She learnt she had been fired while on holiday with her family in Beirut after her Tweet was taken as a show of support for a militant group responsible for attacks on Israel and its citizens. Rather than get upset, she took the news in stride and continued her holiday.
"I was not devastated," she said yesterday at the Sharjah International Book Festival.
"Cutting short my children's holiday to rush back home would have been devastating to them. I simply decided to put the whole affair behind me and think to the future. Life goes on, the past is the past and you can't change it. Why dwell? What's important is today, this moment. Everything else pales in comparison."
The tweet from the 20-year CNN veteran provoked uproar in Jewish and right-wing circles around the world as it quickly spread. A Facebook campaign demanded an apology from CNN and the firing of Ms Nasr.
The New York Times quoted an internal memo from a CNN senior vice-president that stated Ms Nasr would be leaving the company because the organisation thought her credibility had been compromised. Learning that the intent of her Twitter message had been misunderstood by many of those who had read it, Ms Nasr issued a statement on her CNN blog.
"Reaction to my Tweet was immediate, overwhelming and provides a good lesson on why 140 characters should not be used to comment on controversial or sensitive issues, especially those dealing with the Middle East," she wrote. "It was an error of judgment for me to write such a simplistic comment and I'm sorry because it conveyed that I supported Fadlallah's life's work. That's not the case at all."
Six months after her dismissal, Ms Nasr says she harbours no ill will towards CNN. She has never sought any legal action against the network and has no plans to do so at present. She claims she has no anger or frustration regarding the incident.
"I carry nothing," she said. "It was a shock, it was a crisis, but I didn't take it to be anything more than a day in the life. Life is full of unexpected things.
"It was all very sudden and obviously it wasn't planned. I took time to think, regroup, talk to my husband, my kids about where do we go from here."
After a brief period of reflection, Ms Nasr has established her own media consulting company, Bridges Media Consulting, in Atlanta, where CNN has its world headquarters. She said the move has allowed her more expressiveness.
"I always knew that after CNN I would do consulting because I learnt from the best and I am someone who really enjoys doing what I did and want to do," she said. "The time has come for me to get on the road representing myself and everything I stand for. Through Bridges Media Consulting, I wish to be a voice of reason, a voice of moderation, a voice of expertise and best practices.
"I created Bridges Media Consulting to reflect what I've done in my career so far and serve as my platform to carry on making a difference in our world".