A number of Arab writers are supporting a new campaign by PEN International to support writers who have experienced forced displacement or are living in exile. Entitled ‘Make Space’, the initiative includes a three-year programme of publications, events and projects.
Among those who have signed its ‘Make Space Writers Statement’ are the Iraqi novelist and journalist Najem Wali, author of The Journey to Tell al-Lahm, who fled Iraq in 1980 after the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War; the Iraqi poet, critic, essayist and journalist Hatem Abdulwahid, who is a member of the Arab Writers Union and the General Union of Iraqi Writers; and the Syrian writer and researcher Iman Al-Ghafari, who is a new ICORN writer-in-residence in the Swedish city of Sigtuna – ICORN is the International Cities of Refuge Network, an independent organisation offering shelter to writers and artists at risk.
The statement says: ‘Some of us have been displaced, some of us are refugees and asylum seekers, some of us have lived in exile, or have been forced to go into hiding in our own countries, but we are all writers and use words in ways that can shift and inform the society around us. Whoever we are, wherever we are, when we consciously make space for the stories of displaced communities within our own, we make space for a shared cultural understanding that enriches us and connects us, disrupting the systems of division that alienate and dehumanise. It is time to act – and to act together.’
Kenyan novelist and academic Ngugi Wa Thiongo read the statement at the ‘In Other Words Conference’, part of ICORN’s biennial meeting which took place from 31 May to 2 June in Lillehammer, Norway.
Other signatories include Turkish novelist, Elif Shafak; Canadian author, Margaret Atwood; Yann Martel, author of the Life of Pi; and the British graphic novelist and illustrator, Neil Gaiman.
The writers conclude: ‘Together we must shape a context for free expression in which all voices and stories have worth. Together we must challenge xenophobia and racism. Together we will shape a world with space for everyone and – as writers – it is with words and stories that we start.’