Nathalie Handal’s grandfather was from Bethlehem, a city with which she closely identifies: “I often go to Bethlehem and its narrow streets, stone houses, the olives trees, lemon trees, orange trees, the smell of rose wood in the prayer beads, the nativity church, constantly roams inside of me…even if it is a fragmented experience.”
Born in Haiti, Handal was raised and has lived in France, Latin America, the United States and the Middle East. She studied at universities in Boston, Madrid and St. Petersburg and earned graduate degrees in drama and English (University of London), literature (Simmons College in Boston) and creative writing (poetry, at Bennington College in Vermont).
The Neverfield, Handal’s first volume of poetry, was published in 1999, followed by another book and two CDs of her poetry and the editing of two anthologies, most recently (spring 2008) Language for a New Century: Poetry from the Middle East, Asia & Beyond edited with Ravi Shankar and Tina Chang. She told Elizabeth Nunez, chair of PEN American Open Book Program: “I consider myself as a writer and often struggle with set definitions, labels and boxes many tend to put writers in….Words evoke all sorts of memories and images. Languages take you to different places and times. I grew up with many different languages since I experienced multiple displacements and so, of course, languages, rhythms, tonalties,color and expressions have played an important role in my imagination, consciousness and subconscious. Arabic, French, Spanish, English live inside of my body, my mind and move me in ways that remain mysterious to me.”
Involved in professional theater as a producer since 2002 and as a director since 2003, Handal made her playwriting debut in 2005 with Between Our Lips, which compelled us with its intensity of relationship and situation. This short play was quickly followed by the full-length The Details of Silence, in which a reporter interviewing Arab women about their lives discovers the details of her own personal tragedy. Other plays presented between 2006 and 2008 are La Cosa Dei Sogni (about the dilemma a Palestinian soccer player faces in Italy), The Stonecutters (about a family’s journey on the eve of Deir Yassin) and, currently in development at New York Theatre Workshop, The Oklahoma Quartet. In the latter, Handal is telling the previously unheard stories of Arabs born and raised in the American South.