Anniversary anthology spotlights writing and 'resistance' of refugees
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A 20th anniversary collection of prose and poetry spotlights the experiences of refugees who have resisted oppression worldwide.
Edited by Temple Fortune-based Jennifer Langer, Resistance - Voices of Exiled Writers spans 20 years from 2000 to 2020 and features work by those who have escaped their home countries and found solace in writing - from the persecution of Uyghurs, to the Afghanistan War, to Black Lives Matter.
The experience of exile is close to home for Langer, whose German-speaking Jewish parents fled Nazi Germany. Growing up in West Hampstead and Primrose Hill, she recalls them putting German food on the table and having “photos in the living room of relatives who had been murdered".
"Both my mother and father were the only survivors of their respective families. After my Mother died, I started to feel I was the only person left to represent that lost family," said Langer, whose debut poetry collection The Search explores her complex sense of identity.
She set up the charity Exiled Writers Ink in 2000 to promote the literary expression of refugees, motivated by what she describes as “the right-wing media stigmatising refugees and asylum seekers, accusing them of exploiting our society’s welfare and being bogus."
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“They [refugees] didn’t have a voice. I was very disturbed by this and wanted to find out more about their narrative.”
Exiled Writers Ink has since expanded to work with ‘exiles’ more generally, offering creative writing workshops, mentoring and translation services, as well as live literature, theatre events and poetry competitions.
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Amir Darwish’s poem in the anthology, ‘We Want to Live’, was inspired by the “agony and pain experienced by refugees and asylum speakers”. The 31-year-old PhD student came to Britain from Dubai in 2003 after escaping from Syria. Before he left he endured a “cat and mouse game” and was pursued by security services and the Syrian police for writing a poem about the fictional country ‘Kurdistan’.
He says: "I find writing as important as eating and drinking. I wake up in the morning thinking what I am going to eat today, how I am going to put my thoughts on the paper, how am I going to structure a poem, how am I going to deliver my ideas? It occupies almost all of my life.”
Chilean-born Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes’s poem, ‘A She-River Was Born’, explores female resilience in the face of adversity.
The 69-year-old was tortured as a political activist under General Pinochet's military dictatorship, and moved to the UK in 1992 to “try to escape from my memories”.
“It was quite hard being in Chile,” she said. "That was one of the reasons [for coming]. The other is because I’m a feminist, and at the time the feminists didn’t really please the government.”
Her experience of torture informs her writing but Rivera-Fuentes says: "I don't feel like a victim when I write. I feel like an activist.”
She continues her activism through her publishing house, Victorina Press, founded to “give voice to those that are denied that in publishing.”
Langer hopes that readers of Resistance will appreciate “the overall notion of refugees having a voice and expressing their own resistance and that resistance comes in so many forms".
"This work is really one of witness and of testimony but the very act of writing is an act of resilience that is creating awareness about the situation that continues in their countries, and how connected they still are to all the issues and injustices.”
Resistance - Voices of Exiled Writers (£9.99 Palewell Press) is available on Amazon. Langer’s poetry collection The Search will be published in July by Victorina Press.