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Yalda: My New Favorite Holiday

2700 YEARS YOUNG

By Abram Shalom Himelstein, editor-in-chief

After being swept into his new book, The Hubris of an Empty Hand, I got to sit down with Mahyar A. Amouzegar and begin to think about the season of the book’s release. “If we release it in December,” he pointed out, “we will be right next to Yalda.” 

Yalda sounded, to my American ears, like something made up by a Google lab that creates realities by listening in on my fantasies: DURING WINTER SOLSTICE, WE READ POETRY ALL NIGHT TO GET US THROUGH THE LONGEST NIGHT OF THE YEAR. 

I mean—it makes sense that a religion founded two thousand and seven hundred years ago would have had the time to perfect the best holiday. But also, hearing about a two thousand-and-seven-hundred-year-old holiday highlighted my ignorance of the larger world. 

As part of my own creative practice, in my recent writing about the book of Exodus, I have been trying to imagine life before hours and minutes, what time felt like before it was marked by sundials and clocks. So, the idea of sitting up all night on the longest night of the year, getting scared and soothed and sleep-deprived while listening to the elders read poems, sounds like real magic. Add sweets and eating the last of the summer fruits, and you have one of the greatest holidays I had never heard of. 

And so, as the reality lined up, as The Hubris of an Empty Hand made its way through the printing process and Octavia Books opened their doors to us after the social winter of the early pandemic, we’ve gotten to be part of Mahyar bringing Yalda to New Orleans. 

Join us this Saturday for a conversation and event like none other: part pre-Yalda celebration, part book release for UNO Press’s latest: the existential poetry of The Hubris of an Empty Hand

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