On Wednesday the 22nd June 2016, Free Word, in association with Counterpoints Arts and Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants, presented an evening looking at tales of human journeys and the personal experiences behind these journeys.
On the eve of the UK’s referendum on continued EU membership, people were invited to come hear from writers, poets and newly arrived communities about the experience of leaving home and what happens when we arrive in a new place.
This event showcased stories from across decades and from all around the world, as writers from Iraq to Sri Lanka, Ethiopia to Iran and many nations in-between recounted their experiences. Readings which uncovered the realities of those fleeing conflict, poverty or terror were read out and tales which build empathy, community and understanding could be heard during an evening featuring Inua Ellams, Jan Krasnowolski, Deborah Levy, Marina Lewycka, Kamila Shamsie and many more.
The evening was full of variety and featured readings of fiction and poetry, alongside spoken word performances, music and artwork. There was also a panel discussion with writers and representatives of grassroots refugee and migrant organisations. And, books from all of the evening’s speakers were on sale, including guest sales of Modern Poetry in Translation‘s special The Great Flight edition and a sample of Islington Library’s book collection of Stories from New Places.
As part of the aforementioned evening, Free Word hosted a discussion about the role which literature and creative expression can play in providing individuals with a voice.
About the debate:
This debate sought to cast a light on how literature is both influenced by émigré authors’ backgrounds and provides them with the means to express the crossovers and conflicts between those backgrounds and the lives they now lead.
In the course of this discussion, the speakers were asked to explore their relationships with the British media environment, considering how this has impacted upon them both personally and professionally and to what extent their work gives them the opportunity to respond to emotive narratives on migratory themes.
Rita Chadha also spoke about the political reality of the situation locally and the complexities facing refugees and migrants. Watch either the full recording of the evening or highlights from the discussion to hear the panelists’ proposals as to how artistic responses can help provide insight and perspective in the face of intolerance and cynicism, helping to counterbalance a reemergent rhetoric of prejudice with empathy and understanding. You can also find a highlights video of the readings that took place on this evening at the top of the page.
Sulaiman S.M.Y. Addonia is an author of mixed Eritrean/Ethiopian heritage, who lives and works in London
Jan Krasnowolski is a Polish writer, essayist and translator, resident in Bournemouth.
The Unravelling Europe series recognises that increasing societal fragmentation, fuelled by anxiety and fear, threatens the very conditions and values that underpin our open, democratic societies and looks to put artists at the heart of discussions which set out to ask: why is this so, what are the consequences and how might we act to counter them?
To find out more about Unravelling Europe and the series of events which it comprises, visit Free Word at: https://www.freewordcentre.com/projects/unravelling-europe
This debate took place with the support of the European Union’s Europe for Citizens Programme and is one debate of many taking place as part of an international series of debates on the same themes in cities around Europe, including Barcelona, Bratislava, Brussels, London, Sofia and Warsaw.