Marcello Di Cintio is the award-winning Author of Pay No Heed to the Rockets: Life in Contemporary Palestine. Di Cintio will be at Duke on Wednesday, October 31 at 5PM to talk about his work reporting first-hand on the Palestinian experience.  He recently took some time to share his thoughts on reporting and his most recent work with Miranda Gershoni, ’22, a work-study student at the Duke Human Rights Center.

Miranda Gershoni (MG): How did you become a writer? What do you like best about it?

Marcello DiCintio (MC): I was a traveler before I was a writer. After finishing university with dual-degree in Microbiology and English literature, I hooked up with a volunteer-abroad outfit and spent a year teaching and traveling in West Africa. The trip was incredible, and I started writing those stories down when I returned home. I managed to land a few in literary journals and magazines, then compiled all my stories into what became my first book Harmattan: Wind Across West Africa.

What I like best about the sort of writing I do is that it provides me with a kind of back-stage pass into the lives of fascinating people. I am profoundly grateful to the people I meet during my travels, and at home, who trust me with their personal stories.

MG: What inspired you to write Pay No Heed to the Rockets?

MC: I’ve traveled to Israel and Palestine several times since 1999. I’ve written about Palestine for magazines and newspapers, and included a chapter about Israel’s wall around the West Bank in my book Walls: Travels Along the Barricades, but I still wanted to find a way to write a full-length book about the Palestinians. I wanted to write a different story about the Palestinians, one that didn’t begin with conflict, war or oppression. I decided that if I wanted to find different stories about Palestinians, I should seek out the storytellers themselves. So I met with Palestinian poets, authors, librarians and booksellers to see life in contemporary Palestine through the lens of literary art rather than politics.

MG: How do you see Palestine as portrayed in the media as different from how you experienced it?

MC: In western media, we only see two kinds of Palestinian: the furious young man with a keffiyeh over his face hurling a stone, or the distraught woman wailing in front of the rubble of her destroyed home. The Palestinian is only ever seen as a militant or a victim. I had the opportunity to spend time with Palestinians as they live “their” normal lives. Even though the occupation infects nearly every aspect of their daily lives, Palestinians still fall in and out of love. They go to school and work. They cook and make music. They yearn to travel. Some of them write poems. This was the Palestine I wanted to portray.

I also wanted to show Palestine as a place of beauty, rather than as a place that always bleeds and burns.

MG: In your experience, how do literature and the arts enrich the lives of Palestinians?

MC: In general – and this is important – the arts enrich the lives of Palestinians the way art enriches all of our lives. However, I believe that art can be a way for Palestinians to distill their trauma into something beautiful and relevant.

MG: Why do you think a more nuanced consideration of players in current events is crucial, particularly in our current social and political climate?

MC: This is vital because we too often see these “players” as one-dimensional. They are either heroes or villains. Martyrs or monsters. In order to affect change, we need to treat such people with empathy and love. To see them as complete humans deserving of justice.