Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Exiled Writers Ink: Voices in a Strange Land

The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948 postulates in its Article 19 the freedom of opinion and expression. In my corner of the world, in the European Union, this fundamental right has become a matter of course and writers usually don’t give it much thought, but in many – far too many – countries authors face censorship and repression every day. There literary or journalistic work can put at risk the freedom and even the life of the writers themselves as well as of their families. Is it a surprise that under such conditions critical minds decide to go into exile? 

For writers the decision to leave their countries of origin is even more difficult than for others because in their work they depend almost always on the use of their native language. Going into exile can thus deprive them of access to the literary community and to publishing. Since few authors can be expected to be as gifted for foreign languages as for instance Joseph Conrad (who was a Pole writing in English), the registered charity Exiled Writers Ink was formed in London. Its mission is to provide a platform ‘for the work of artists living in exile in the UK and mainland Europe’. 

On its website Exiled Writers Ink states that in order to fulfil its mission, it regularly organises creative writing workshops for refugees as well as for other exiles and it offers workshops with (established) exiled writers in schools, colleges and groups. It also arranges seminars and conferences, theatre performances, festivals and other events in the UK, often in collaboration with other organizations. Another important contribution of Exiled Writers Ink to the literary scene is Live Literature, for example the Exiled Lit Café taking place every first Monday of the month in London. 

The work of Exiled Writers Ink would be only half-hearted, if it didn’t include matters of publication and translation as well. One of the charity’s projects is dedicated to matching exiles and English writers for the purpose of working together on the English editing. In return the exiled or refugee authors translate work of the partner into their own languages. As the website says, volunteers for helping with the editing are always welcome. The results of such collaboration in a literary tandem are published and presented in a performance arranged by Exiled Writers Ink. 

The online list of publications by writers associated with Exiled Writers Ink is long, but the charity can come up with own publications, too. Several anthologies of exiled literature have been edited by its director, Jennifer Langer, and some booklets are available along with the books produced in the Mentoring and Translation Programme. Until winter 2010/11 a magazine called exiled ink! has been published and its issues 4 to 14 can be downloaded from the website for free. Lamentably it seems that the magazine no longer appears, not even on the internet. 

The website of Exiled Writers Ink gives a good overview of the charity’s activities. It’s an initiative that can’t be overrated because it shows how much power of expression and wealth of thought refugees and exiles bring to our countries. All we need to do is give them a chance to follow their literary ambitions - in other words: to write without fear.

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