23. ilb 06. – 16.09.2023

Stella Gaitano

Stella Gaitano was born in Khartoum, Sudan in 1979. Her family comes from South Sudan. She studied pharmacy at Khartoum University. She has said that she started writing stories while she was still at primary school. Among the authors who have influenced her, Gaitano cites the Sudanese At-Tayyib Salih, as well as Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende. During her studies, she came into contact with intellectuals and political activists, after which she intensified her writing and started to write about herself, her family, and her people. Gaitano moved from the north to South Sudan in 2012. She is considered an important voice for her countrymen who have experienced war and displacement. She writes in Arabic.

Gaitano says that she wrote one of her first short stories, »A Lake the Size of a Papaya Fruit«, in half an hour, inspired by her grandmother. It was a revelation for her. The story, for which she was swiftly awarded a literary prize in 2003, is about a girl and her grandmother who have to make their way through life alone after the girl’s parents and grandfather die. »Wilted Flowers« [2002] is Gaitano’s first book of short stories. It describes the fate of people who have fled from the murderous conflicts in South Sudan, Darfur, and the Nuba mountains and are living in refugee camps near Khartoum. In »The Return« [2015], Gaitano describes the return of many South Sudanese from the north to their newly founded state. She portrays the immense expectations aroused, great hopes, and even greater disappointments.

The English translation of her debut novel, »Eddoʼs Souls« [2018], won a PEN Translates Award in 2020. In it, she addresses universal themes of identity, farewell, motherhood, loss, and grief, and recounts the historical, political, and social changes that had an immense impact on the lives of Sudanese in the mid-seventies to mid-eighties, as they upset the social fabric and led to marginalization, divisions, and civil unrest. »The novel begins across a rural context, in a small impoverished village full of mystery, rituals, and superstition, and it ends in a jam-packed city with all its complications« [»Arablit & Arablit Quarterly«].

Gaitano won the Professor Ali El-Mek Award in 2001 and 2004. She comments regularly on the political situation in Sudan and South Sudan in newspaper articles. She also participates in the initiative Youth for My Country, which attempts to ease the suffering of the many victims of violence in South Sudan by offering pragmatic, hands-on solutions. In 2022, Giatano is residing in Kamen, Germany, as a fellow of PEN’s Writers-in-Exile Program.

Date: 2022