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How Beacon Press Worked Quickly to Publish Atef Abu Saif’s Gaza Diaries

A Q&A with Amy Caldwell and Perpetua Charles

Atef Abu Saif and DON’T LOOK LEFT
Atef Abu Saif in Gaza. Cover design: Carol Chu

In October 2023, Minister for Culture for the Palestinian Authority and writer Atef Abu Saif was visiting family in Gaza with his fifteen-year-old son Yasser. They had only planned to be there for three days. On Saturday, October 7, during a morning swim, the bombing began.

Abu Saif dispatched a series of WhatsApp and voicemail messages to his publisher, Ra Page of Comma Press UK, relaying his firsthand account in harrowing detail of the first eighty-five days of the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Compiled together, they became Don’t Look Left: A Diary of Genocide. Beacon Press joined ten international publishers, including Comma Press UK, to release his book as quickly as possible to call attention to the genocide in Palestine. Beacon Broadside editor Christian Coleman caught up with Beacon Press editorial director Amy Caldwell and publicist Perpetua Charles to chat about the release. Profits of the book will go to Palestinian charities committed to providing aid to the war’s victims: Medical Aid for Palestinians and the Middle East Children’s Alliance.

Christian Coleman: How did you find out that Atef Abu Saif had written Don’t Look Left? What was the acquisition process like for this book? 

Amy Caldwell: I’d worked with Ra Page, Atef Abu Saif’s editor at Comma Press in the UK, on a previous book, The Drone Eats with Me, which chronicles Abu Saif’s experiences on the ground in Gaza during the 2012 Israeli incursion. And then last fall, after the post-Oct 7 Israeli campaign and invasion of Gaza began, Ra reached out. I didn’t know Atef had been visiting Gaza on October 7, and it was, of course, distressing to hear. Ra was looking for contacts and help to reach out to US media that might publish the accounts Atef was writing as he was able to in the dull moments in between terror and grief and search for food and safety—an element of war he captures powerfully. And then he was getting the work to Ra when the internet was up, often via WhatsApp. I talked with my colleagues in publicity, who immediately put together list of contacts, and it really helped gets excerpts from the diary out into the US media.   

In January, Ra reached out to say that he and Atef wanted to collect his writings from the war and put them out as a book with a group of international publishers and with all profits donated to Palestinian charities. I immediately said I’d love to be a part of it and would propose the book in house. My colleagues were uniformly enthusiastic. We’re a nonprofit mission-based press, and while we need to earn our keep, we are very clear about the political and human importance of certain books and particular historical circumstances. 

CC: What are the similarities and differences between The Drone Eats with Me and Don’t Look Left?

AC: Atef is such a skilled writer. One of the first things I felt as I began to read was that sense of him, of a writer who can deftly paint a scene, pick out a telling detail, bring a person to life in a few sentences. And so, while the content is often very tough, it’s not only that: one gets to know people, gets a feel for the texture of life in Gaza—the cafes, the food, the carefully tended gardens—before the war and under assault. He’s also a writer with a deep knowledge of the reality of war and occupation. As he notes, he was born into war, suffering his first wounds as a baby. 

The situation—the scale of destruction, the presence of death and suffering—in Don’t Look Left is, of course, so much more dire than in The Drone. And members of his extended family are terribly, horribly wounded in Don’t Look Left. There are scenes that powerfully bring home not just the deaths that are occurring but the tremendous suffering, the terror, and the scale of it all. Early on in my reading, I found I was thinking about the pictures of European cities destroyed in World War II, and a short time later, Atef made the comparison himself.

CC: How did Beacon decide to release Don’t Look Left as an eBook first and then in paperback?

AC: The goal with this book was to get it out, to make the book available as soon as possible, and that meant eBook first. But we found that there was a strong demand from indie booksellers for a paperback edition, so we got a paperback out there as soon as possible.

CC: Beacon had to work quickly to release the eBook and paperback editions. What were some of the editorial and production challenges that came up?

AC: We had to do a lot of reading very quickly, clearly, and to think quickly about copy, designing a cover, discussing issues around publication dates and press announcements with a group of publishers in many time zones, and other behind-the-scenes tasks that have to be handled for books to be available online and at stores.

CC: Molly Crabapple had already sent in her endorsement for Atef’s book. How did you manage to get a starred review from Kirkus Reviews in so little time?

Perpetua Charles: Trade publications care about books that speak to urgent, history-making issues in our time. Even in less time-sensitive circumstances, my experience with Kirkus has been that they take time to seriously review—and feature prominently in their publication thereafter—books that stand to have a lasting impact on culture and in readers’ lives. It’s no surprise to me that they were among the first to respond to my pitch!

CC: Is this the fastest you’ve put together a publicity campaign for one of our titles?

PC: Yes! It was only two months ago but it’s already a blur. Helpfully, I worked with Atef on the publicity for his last book, and our collaboration with his other international publishers made the process quite smooth. Though Don’t Look Left was a last-minute addition to our list, I can’t think of a book more worthy of the effort.

CC: How has media been responding to this international event of releasing his book as quickly as possible to call attention to the ongoing genocide in Palestine? Is media aware of how global and important this cause is?

PC: Atef’s UK publisher, Comma Press, worked with other artists using their mediums to protest the genocide to generate an arts event in Manchester that supports the suffering citizens. Atef’s book is among the works being featured. A local Jewish organization called for the event’s cancellation, alleging Atef had issued anti-Jewish sentiments in the past. Artists and residents successfully petitioned for the event to be reinstated, and it will take place on April 22. Coverage of the politics surrounding this event and Atef’s involvement speak not only to importance of calling attention to the genocide through public events like this one, but also show how necessary it is for a light to be shone on those who wish to deny and discredit the suffering of Palestinians like Atef who have survived this siege. I hope the attention this event received leads to large and engaged crowd later this month, and that it encourages other outlets to keep writing about the significance of Atef’s and other survivors’ stories as this war rages on.


About the Authors 

Amy Caldwell is the editorial director at Beacon Press. She acquires in religion, with special emphases on interfaith issues; the relation between politics, culture, and religion; and how Americans live out their religious beliefs. She also acquires in science and society, as well as narrative nonfiction/memoir.

Perpetua Charles joined Beacon Press in 2015. She is a graduate of Florida Southern College and earned her MA in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College. Perpetua has extensive publicity experience in the areas of race and culture, memoir, education, and history. Some of her favorite things include the Lord, TV, Disney princesses, books, 90s-00s teen pop, and the color pink. Connect with Perpetua on Instagram at @princessperpetuaa.

Christian Coleman is the digital marketing manager at Beacon Press and editor of Beacon Broadside. Before joining Beacon, he worked in writing, copy editing, and marketing positions at Sustainable Silicon Valley and Trikone. He graduated from Boston College and the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. Follow him on Twitter at @coleman_II and on Bluesky at