A Palestinian citizen of Israel, Sayed Kashua is an award-winning writer, newspaper columnist and creator/showrunner of the hit Israeli TV series “Arab Labor” and “The Writer.” His work is known for testing the limits of a Palestinian-Israeli’s freedom of expression and displays a deep understanding of divided lives along with dark, ironic humor. His novel “Let It Be Morning” inspired Israeli helmer Eran Kolirin’s new film in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard.
Were you involved with the production of “Let It Be Morning?”
No. I just wrote a novel and they bought the rights for a movie. I watched an early cut of the movie and loved his [Kolirin’s] interpretation, though very different from the book. But he is a sensitive, great director.
You left in Israel in 2014. Where are you now and what are you working on?
I am in my third year at Washington University in St. Louis, working on a Ph.D. in comparative literature. And I am writing 20 episodes of a drama for Israeli educational TV. It’s very challenging, especially after the latest war in Gaza. It is about the bilingual school in Jerusalem. It’s about trying in a very frustrating way to find a common language. It’s 50% Hebrew and 50% Arabic. It’s supposed to shoot in November.
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Do you also have American projects?
I am working on an idea that I first pitched to Sony Pictures TV and co-writing the pilot with Howard Gordon [“Homeland” showrunner]. We just finished the first draft. Generally speaking, it’s about a Palestinian Muslim college professor in the Midwest. As you can see, I always write about myself.
Also, I was very happy to receive an email from David Simon [“The Wire” showrunner] in 2018 about a new project for HBO. I replied, “Dear David, Yes. Sayed.” It’s based on a true story. I co-wrote the pilot. I was a writer for hire, different from the Sony project where I came and pitched the story.
I wrote in English. [Microsoft] Word doesn’t always agree that it’s English. But I’m doing my best to make it English. Wonderful people check my English mistakes. I feel almost good enough to write scripts. Only scripts, not literature — scripts and academic work. It’s still English with an accent, but that’s OK. Nowadays just being busy with school and TV doesn’t even leave me time to write short stories.
Where are you in your studies?
I just finished my first comprehensive exam. I was supposed to take the second comprehensive sometime in the summer. The department chair wrote, “You didn’t get back to us about a timetable for your exam.” I wrote back, “A movie based on my novel is selected for Cannes.” She replied, “That’s wonderful news. What about the next exam?” The general topic of my dissertation is going to be post-Oslo Accords Palestinian literature.
Will you remain in the U.S.?
I really don’t know. It’s not only my decision. I think my wife is much happier here. When we moved she finished her Ph.D. in social work at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. Her research was about motherhood and trauma among war refugees. She worked with Syrian refugees in Jordan. Now, she works at Washington University doing research about refugees and immigrants. The kids are happy here. We speak Arabic at home. Hebrew was completely forgotten by my perfectly bilingual kids. The little one, he was 3 when we came over, thinks he’s American. He even thinks he’s white. We didn’t tell him yet that he’s Muslim. I always make this joke that we are waiting for his bar mitzvah to tell him.
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