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TSERING WOESER

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THE AFGHAN WOMEN’S WRITING PROJECT

CITY OF ASYLUM

S A M P S O N I A WAY Tsering Woeser: Fearless Reporting Behind China’s Great Firewall


Afghan Women’s Writing Project

The

By Elizabeth Hoover

Tabasom, whose last name is withheld to protect her identity, writes her poems in secret, then walks four hours through Taliban-controlled territory to access an Internet connection in Kabul so she can share her words with an online writing workshop. Because women are forbidden to travel alone, her brother goes with her. He is the only one who knows what she is doing; if someone else discovers that she is a woman who dares to write and share her words with others, she could be beaten or even killed.

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Unfiltered Voice

Photo: Afghan man and his two wives at market. Credit: Mie Ahmt, istockphoto.

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Tabasom is a member of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project (AWWP), a series of online writing workshops run remotely by women writers based in America. In an effort to protect their participants, AWWP doesn’t allow for interviews, however, the women describe their experiences in poems, essays, and comments published on AWWP’s website. “I wish I wrote my destiny/ With silver colors of happiness/ That shined in my life,” Tabasom writes in “Gold Hidden in a River.” The AWWP site not only allows Tabasom and other Afghan women writers to share their work, but it also fosters conversations and connections with readers from around the globe. “Please keep writing,” a reader urges in the comment section under “Gold Hidden in a River.” “Your poems will help others, your words release the pain you are in and give a voice for so many women who have no voice or are afraid to use their voice.” Founder Masha Hamilton sees the comment section of the AWWP magazine as crucial to the program’s success. “Asking “Asking an Afghan woman an Afghan woman to participate in a writing class is a lot to to participate in ask,” she told Sampsonia Way. “We want them to know peoa writing class ple are reading their stories.” is a lot to ask. These connections can be especially meaningful for women We want them like Tabasom, who lead isolated lives in territories held by the to know people Taliban. Women in these areas are often confined to their are reading homes and forbidden to work, travel, or attend school. Tabasom their stories.” writes that she would like to work but is afraid to, especially after Masha Hamilton the Taliban killed her aunt who was working as nurse. In addition to allowing Afghan writers to connect with each other and with a global readership, AWWP seeks to educate people around the globe about the condition of women in Afghanistan. According to their website, they give readers a chance to encounter the voices of Afghan women, who are usually heard “only through the filter of their men and the media.” From a Kitchen in Brooklyn In 1999, Hamilton, a journalist and novelist, saw a haunting video of a woman named Zarmeena executed on a Kabul athletic field. The video ran on the AP wire, but there was almost no information about the woman besides her name. “I realized not only were women being hidden under burqas, but their stories were also hidden,” Hamilton said.

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She traveled to Afghanistan in 2004 and 2008 to search out these hidden stories. On her second trip she found that “things were getting worse for women.” In recent years, the Taliban, a fundamentalist Muslim group known for their treatment of women, has steadily regained the territory they lost after the 2001 American invasion. The London-based International Council on Security and Development estimates that currently 80 percent of Afghanistan is under Taliban control. According to UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, 60-80 percent of Afghan women are in forced marriages, often before they reach 16. Afghan women face high rates of domestic violence, sexual assault, and spousal murder. Motivated by the belief that “the right to tell your story is a human right,” Hamilton set up an online writing workshop for some of the women she met in her travels and ran it from her kitchen table in Brooklyn. After the ten-week class ended, she realized how much the women needed a place to express themselves freely. “I just couldn’t dump them,” she said. Hamilton created three secure online classrooms and began to recruit other American women writers to act as mentors for a session. She also launched a blog where the Afghan women could publish their work. The blog eventually became an online magazine complete with a team of editors. As the program grew and raised additional funds, AWWP was able to open the Women’s Writing Hut in Kabul, a small apartment building furnished with computers and Internet. Now, some of the women who once only knew each another by their screen names can gather there in person to sip tea, read books, and share their work. “Setting up an online classroom was easy,” said Hamilton. “The challenge was convincing the students that someone cares about their stories and is listening.” When writer Rachel de Baere, one of the teachers recruited by Hamilton, began mentoring with AWWP, one of her primary concerns was to create a safe and supportive atmosphere. She told Sampsonia Way she wanted the women “to feel comfortable and connected in addition to enhancing their writing skills.” She provided weekly writing prompts, but also allowed the students to turn in “anything that needed to be written.” Each week, the women would post their writing in the online classroom, and de Baere would comment, urging them to write with more detail or praising a particularly powerful phrase. In addition, the students commented on each other’s work. “They all learned to support and know each other,” de Baere said. The experience was transformative for de Baere who said she was “moved to tears daily by the power of their authenticity.” After her mentoring rotation was

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over, she continued to work with the project as the poetry editor of the magazine. In August 2010, she became AWWP’s director and is hoping to expand the program to include classes in Dari and build another writing hut. “Because the Taliban is coming back there will be greater risks, but also a greater need for the program,” she said. De Baere believes these online writing workshops can be a powerful tool to help Afghan women. “Research shows writing helps significantly in healing from trauma, both physically and emotionally,” she said. “The very act of putting pen to paper is a witnessing act, and it’s empowering to be a witness.” This sentiment was echoed by participant Roya, who writes in her introduction on the AWWP that she wants to be a poet. She adds, “I took the pen and I wrote and everything changed. I learned if I stand, everyone will stand, other women in my country will stand.” “I am For Sale, Who Will Buy Me?” One writer found both the courage and the financial support needed to escape a forced marriage through her participation in AWWP. In January 2010, she published an essay called “I am for Sale, Who Will Buy Me?” Usually writers are identified by their first name, but as an extra precaution, this essay was completely anonymous. In the essay, the writer remembers, “I used to think big.” She dreamed of getting a college education, but after her father died her family plunged into poverty. Her uncle offered to buy her for $20,000 as a wife for his son. She writes, “I think if this happens, I won’t stay in this world; I will leave the world for those who can live in it, who can find a solution.” Readers responded with an outpouring of support in the comments section and created a fund to help the writer to match her bride price. In essence, she bought her own freedom. However she still lives in fear for her life, as she explains in a later essay. Her uncle was outraged she defied him and demanded she appear before a tribal council. When she refused, he kidnapped one of her brothers and cut off three of his fingers. Her mother has fled the country. The writer struggles with feelings of guilt because her decision to flee a forced marriage put her family in danger, but she still dreams of getting an education and her writing gives her strength for the future. In her essay, “Hope in the Unseen,” she writes, “It is childish and silly, but every morning I open my notebook and list new desires, hopes, and plans for my unknown tomorrow.” De Baere finds the mixture of “hope and bravery” in the women’s words to be a source of inspiration. “The consequences for expressing themselves could be grave—they could be beaten or stoned,” de Baere added. Despite these risks,

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Right: photo courtesy of Afghan Women’s Writing Project Credit: Heidi Levine


“Research shows writing helps significantly in healing from trauma, both physically and emotionally. The very act of putting pen to paper is a witnessing act, and it’s empowering to be a witness.” Rachel de Baere

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more that 50 Afghan women have published essays, poems, photographs, and short stories on the site. A sampling from their writing demonstrates an urgent need to express themselves, whether it be to rage about injustice against women or simply share what they see outside their window. Fariba writes, “Every time girls go to school/I feel totally changed/disappointment and anguish disappear.” Angela shares a proverb: “When a man is educated only one person is educated, but when a woman is educated the whole family is educated.” A 16-yearold girl remembers the terror of being trapped at her school while antiAmerican protests enveloped her city after a U.S. convoy caused a deadly accident. Seta visits a women’s prison to report on conditions there.

In addition, women contribute poems and essays that record daily life in Afghanistan, its struggles and its joys. Zakia’s spirits are lifted when she smells fresh mint in her garden. Aisha conjures the nervous energy of a first date. Yagana writes that her grandmother’s kitchen is “Crowded as a fish market/With walls as white as a glass of milk/It is a place of love.” Mabel comments back to her “I remember well the fragrance of baking bread in my own Grandmother’s kitchen on the Atlantic seaboard…Thank you!” In order to contribute her voice to this panoply, Tabasom walks four hours through Taliban territory, a short walk in her mind. She writes, “4 hour walk, isn’t it long? Not for my interest of writing, it is not far away.” Above photos courtesy of Afghan Women’s Writing Project. Left: Seeta, photographer–Group of women in garmentmaking center. Middle: Ellaha, photographer–Kochi (nomad) women moving from one place to another because of weather changes. Right: Roya, photographer–Sayad, in the northern district of Kabul.

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Woeser’s online journalism has earned her more than awards and international recognition; it’s also earned her harassment and constant surveillance by the Chinese government. Undeterred, she continues to write, motivated by her desire to share the truth about today’s Tibet with the world.

Tsering Woeser: Fearless Reporting Behind China’s Great Firewall By Joshua Barnes

Photo courtesy of Tsering Woeser

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I first tried contacting Tsering Woeser, a self-described “one-person online news station,” in November 2010 via email. At that time she had traveled from her residence in Beijing, China to her childhood home in Lhasa, Tibet. Lhasa is not the most secure place for a one-person news station that reports on developments inside Chinese-occupied Tibet via two widely followed blogs and a Twitter feed. In the two months that passed before Woeser confirmed my identity and sent responses to my questions, her blog Invisible Tibet was hacked for the fourth time; her Gmail and Facebook accounts were tapped, and malicious emails were sent to her contacts list. The fact that Woeser is a pro-Tibet blogger has earned her public enemy status from the Chinese government, which tightly regulates Internet traffic. According to Free Tibet, a Tibetan liberation organization, the Chinese occupiers engage in systematic human rights abuses and seek to destroy Tibetan culture, religion, and language. Since 2004 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has required all Tibetan citizens to use an Internet access card, so they can monitor online activity. The type of harassment Woeser experienced in November is nothing new. In 2004, Chinese authorities stated that her book Notes on Tibet contained “political errors,” an accusation which caused her to lose her job as an editor for the Tibet Autonomous Region Literature Association’s journal. She started blogging the following year and since then her sites have been the target of cyber attacks. In 2008, her blog’s home page was replaced with an image of the Chinese flag and a message calling her the “Tibet Separatist” and urging violence against her. That same year, Woeser was visiting her mother in Lhasa when the house was raided by Chinese police. “A man came into my room...and searched every corner,” she wrote in her essay “They, They...” “He opened a file folder, and the look on his face was like he had found a treasure. When he realized it was just material from my mother’s workplace, he looked so disappointed.” Woeser was taken to a police station where she was questioned and subjected to intimidation tactics for eight hours. She considers herself lucky that she wasn’t tortured. Around the time of her arrest, pressure from overseas organizations like Reporters Without Borders prompted a spokesperson for the Chinese government to issue a statement claiming that accusations that they had arrested dissidents were “groundless.” Woeser believes she was released because China faced increased international scrutiny in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics. When questioned on the topic of her arrest, Woeser revealed distaste for her behavior: “I was shocked to realize how submissive I had been. Why did I let them take me away? Why did I answer every question they asked?” Such selfcriticism, while harsh, isn’t difficult to understand; while resisting the CCP is a

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According to Free Tibet, a Tibetan liberation organization, the Chinese occupiers engage in systematic human rights abuses and seek to destroy Tibetan culture, religion, and language. Since 2004 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has required all Tibetan citizens to use an Internet access card, so they can monitor online activity. Pictured: The ruins of Shide Tratsang Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet. It was destroyed by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. Credit: David Kerkhoff, istockphoto

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rugged road to take, it’s one that Woeser has been traveling on since she started her first blog, The Maroon Map. Woeser’s journalism has been described as fearless by more than one source, including World Tibet News. Despite considerable risks, she documents what is important to her as a Tibetan, whether it be the preservation of Buddhist holidays outlawed by the CCP or an interview with a Tibetan monk following the March 2008 protests in Lhasa, which left 20 dead and over 4,400 participants in police custody. Even though her friends and family can also be punished for her work, Woeser openly answered my questions about her tangles with the government and accused the CCP of having a direct involvement with the repeated shutdown of her sites.

Forbidden Memories Born in 1966, Woeser grew up in occupied Tibet and dreamt of being an embedded journalist reporting from the front lines. Sharing stories about Lhasa to her Chinese classmates when she was just 4-years-old prefigured her work as a blogger telling the story of Tibet to the world. Despite being half Tibetan, her father was an officer in the People’s Liberation Army during China’s 1950 invasion and forcible annexation of Tibet. Woeser remembered questioning her father when she was young: “My

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father used to tell me to learn to walk with two legs: one for my own path and one to follow social expectations. I didn’t agree with him and asked, couldn’t one of the legs be broken eventually? He didn’t answer.” When asked about her relationship with her father Woeser said: “This is not a simple question and I cannot answer it in a few words.” She is currently working on a novel about this topic, exploring her experience through a fictional character. “I need a moment of truth and intimacy to share unsettled feelings,” she said. Her father’s involvement in the Cultural Revolution provided the material for her third book, Forbidden Memories: Tibet During the Cultural Revolution. During Mao’s “re-education” program thousands of Buddhist texts

The sepia pictures are included in Tsering Woeser’s Forbidden Memories

were burned and Buddhist temples across Tibet ransacked. These incidents are crucial to understanding the nation’s current condition of unrest. However, these events have mostly been erased by CCP-enforced silence. In his introduction to Forbidden Memories, scholar and novelist Wang Lixiong writes that the most complete collection of records from the Cultural Revolution includes more than 10,000 files, transcripts, and other documents, but only 8 of those files are related to Tibet. M A Y 2 0 11

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Woeser’s Forbidden Memories works to close this gap in history. It contains hundreds of unpublished photos taken by Woeser’s father during his People’s Liberation Army duty. The volume includes several essays by Woeser and a collection of interviews she conducted with Tibetans from her father’s generation, which her mother helped translate into Chinese. In 2006 the controversial Forbidden Memories was published in Taiwan. Woeser did not comment on her father’s level of involvement in the project. “I’m a Tibetan Living in Exile” On December 17, 2007 Woeser was awarded the Norwegian Authors’ Union Freedom of Expression Award for “bravely choosing to publish her books, despite content deemed controversial by the Chinese authorities.” She was unable to attend the award ceremony in Oslo because, for the fifth year in a row, the Chinese government denied her a passport. Her request was denied on the grounds of “national security,” a common accusation against dissidents. In July of 2008 Woeser filed a suit against the Chinese government and took the case to Changchun Intermediate Court, where her husband is registered as a permanent resident. But her suit has been routinely delayed. “My chance of getting a passport is very slim,” she said. Even if she could leave the country, Woeser said the trip would only be temporary. “I still want to stay in China because it’s closer to Tibet. I would like to travel abroad, if I have a chance, just to see what’s out there. But I will return,” she said. A profile on Payhul.com, a web portal for Tibetan news and opinion, notes that “Woeser’s writing provides a stark immediacy to events and brings them up-close and personal as no report by foreign journalists or ‘experts’ can, not even exiled writers like [Jamyang Norbu].” However, Woeser considers herself an exiled writer. She said she is “a Tibetan living in exile in China, just like hundreds of thousands of Tibetans.” The CCP maintains Tibet is officially part of China and places restrictions on Tibetan cultural practices, such as requiring Tibetan monks to attend “patriotic education” meetings that belittle the Dalai Lama, according to The Economist. Woeser is working to prevent the CCP from completely erasing Tibetan history. “If I don’t record and speak out, our nation will be silenced, history will be altered...and younger generations will have no way of knowing. This one-person media is the only weapon given to those whose rights have been deprived, and I will carry it until the end,” Woeser stated. Today Woeser isn’t taking notes while dodging gunfire like her childhood dream. Instead she is dodging cyber attacks to disseminate her work despite CCP interference. Even if her sites are shutdown temporarily, Chinese and Tibetan news sources have reprinted many of her essays, and her work has an

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English-language home on Highpeakspureearth.com. Threats and comments calling her a “Tibetan dog” don’t make her renounce her ways: “I might get into trouble, but I don’t care,” she said. “I want to let more people understand the situation and history of Tibet. Persistence is the key and change will come, sooner or later.” Photo courtesy of Tsering Woeser

Oh, two wings, One is wisdom, one is courage, I would not wish to be a bird, Too smart or too imprudent. ... Only with both, Can you fly out of the three realms. From Woeser’s “Flying”

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Tsering Woeser’s Blogging History 2005 • With encouragement from her husband Wang Lixiong, Woeser worked with the site Tibetan Culture Net to post the Maroon Map, a site that attracted predominately Tibetan viewers. Wangxiu Caidan, manager of TibetCul at the time, said that between February 2005 and July 2006 the Maroon Map had over 280,000 hits. • Oeser’s Blog, a Chinese-language blog hosted by a Chinese server, was started in 2005 and primarily received Chinese visitors. Oeser is an alternate Chinese spelling of Woeser.

Screenshot of Tibetan Culure Net website, a message board and blog dedicated to Tibetan cultural events.

2006 • The Maroon Map and Oeser's Blog were both shut down by order of the CCP’s United Front Work Department. The server that hosted Oeser’s Blog was permanently shut down.

Screenshot of Oeser’s Blog today.

• Tibetan Culture Net exists, now without a Maroon Map section, but the site is still subject to unannounced governmental shut-downs.

2007 • In January, Woeser reposted Oeser’s Blog on an overseas server. The site was shut down after one day online. Neither the Maroon Map nor Oeser’s Blog are viewable today.

Screenshot of Woeser’s current blog, Invisible Tibet.

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• Woeser posted a new blog, the Woeser’s blog, on a different server after Oeser’s Blog was shut down. • 2008 According to a 2008 article from China View, Woeser's Blog recorded 3 million hits from Chinese and Tibetan visitors between 2007 and 2008. • On May 27, Woeser’s Blog was hacked by a member of the Hongke Alliance, a group of Chinese Nationalist Netizens that, according to Woeser, many people believe are supported by the Chinese government. • A few days later, Woeser’s fifth blog Invisible Tibet was up and running. • 2010 Invisible Tibet was hijacked on November 23. It was restored several days later with the help of a friend. • Invisible Tibet is still operational.

READ WOESER’S ESSAYS AND JOURNALISM ON HIGH PEAKS PURE EARTH, TIBET WRITES, AND CHINA DIGITAL TIMES. WOESER'S POETRY AND BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE THROUGH RAGGED BANNER PRESS.

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Welcoming the contemporary world in the 17th century tradition.

Readings at City of Asylum

< Shahriar Mandanipour

< Khet Mar

< Richard Wiley >

The salon-style readings bring the world to the Northside, and Pittsburghers welcome it with open arms. Beverly PerĂŠz Rego >

Akhil Sharma >

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A

By Elizabeth Hoover

t a reading hosted by City of Asylum/Pittsburgh last November, Iranian novelist Shahriar Mandanipour read an excerpt from his most recent novel, Censoring an Iranian Love Story. In the excerpt, a blind film censor listens to Dances with Wolves while a team of film experts describe what is happening on screen. They all agree that the footage must be censored, but they wildly disagree about which scenes to cut and how the film should be changed when dubbed into Farsi. The censors struggle to replace a wedding scene and eliminate any implication that the characters had a romantic relationship. Finally, they invent a Native American ritual in which long-lost siblings celebrate their reunification. The audience couldn’t help but laugh at the outlandish premise, despite the seriousness of political repression in Iran. But creating that mix of seriousness and laughter is what Mandanipour set out to do; he announced at the beginning of his reading that he wanted to use sadness for ironic purpose. In his remarks, he also described the dire situation in Iran where students and activists languish in solitary confinement and every day Iranians await the news of another execution. The import of Mandanipour’s remarks lingered even amid the laughter of the audience. Perhaps “audience” isn’t exactly the right word for this group of people gathered in the living room of Diane Samuels and Henry Reese, the founders of COA/P, a location Mandanipour described as a “cozy, serious, literary place.” Because the readings are so intimate and encourage such lively discussions, the term “guests” or “participants” is more apt. Samuels and Reese have been hosting salon-style readings in their home since 2007. Samuels said they were inspired by the success of COA/P’s Jazz Poetry Concerts, an annual event that they started in 2005. Now approximately 700 people attend the outdoor reading and concert each year. “If Pittsburgh weather were more gentle, we could present outdoor readings year-round in the same spirit as Jazz Poetry,” Samuels said, adding they want to provide readings that are “free, casual, and non-institutional.”

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Because they didn’t have other facilities besides the houses used for COA/P’s writers’ residences, Reese and Samuels opened their own home. Having readings in their house seemed like a natural choice to Samuels because “City of Asylum is all about hospitality.” She said that some of the regular attendees have become “acquaintances and friends,” and hosting the readings helped her get to know her neighbors better. The first salon-style reading in their home was with writerin-residence Horacio Castellanos Moya. They announced it via e-mail and asked people to RSVP. By the next day, all 45 spots were filled. They scheduled a second reading for the following month for those who didn’t it make it on the list for the first. Castellanos Moya was born in Honduras and lived in El Salvador before coming to Pittsburgh in 2006. He read from Senselessness, a novel in the voice of an increasingly paranoid man hired to edit the horrific testimonies of people who survived a mass killing in an unnamed Latin American country. This was Castellanos Moya’s first novel translated into English. Since that first reading they have hosted an additional 19, and each one fills up almost immediately. “As soon as I get the e-mail, I reply,” said Adel Fougnies, a retired reading specialist and long-time Northside resident. Fougnies attends every reading she can. “There is something raw and authentic about hearing the words in the author’s voice,” she said. Some of the authors have included Vijay Nair of India, Jim Powell of England, Glaydah Namukasa of Uganda, and Marius Ivaškevicˇius of Lithuania. There have also been North American authors such as George Packer, Russell Banks, Richard Wiley, and Northsider Hilary Masters, as well as translators reading from poems and novels they have translated. Samuels said she watches the guests “tune into the accents of the international writers reading in English. In the beginning, people are leaning forward to hear, but then something clicks and they relax. The accents are quite beautiful, another kind of music.” Don Staricka, who moved from Los Angeles to Homestead, said he especially enjoyed hearing Venezuelan poet Beverly Pérez Rego read in Spanish this January. Compared to other readings he finds the events at COA/P “more civilized; people

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City of Asylum Salons’ Links March 2011 Khet Mar

Cloudscape Interview Ships in the Mist January 2011 Beverly Peréz Rego

Interview October 2011 Jim Powell November 2010 Shariar Mandanipour April 2010 Akhil Sharma June 2010 Letras Latinas: Fracisco Aragón Brenda Cárdenas January 2010 Maxine Case Marius Ivaškeviˇcius December 2009 George Packer November 2009 Er Tai Gao


October 2009 Horacio Castellanos Moya September 2009 Hilary Masters April 2009 Richard Wiley December 2008 Glaydah Namukasa October 2008 Russell Banks May 2009 Katherine Silver February 2008 Bill Johnson November 2007 Jill Schoolman May 2007 Dr. Arthur Levine Dr. Bernie Freydberg March 2007 Horacio Castellanos Moya February 2007 Horacio Castellanos Moya

sit in chairs, there’s no smoking, no sound of a cappuccino maker.” He added that he is “astounded” that the readings are free. He was about to continue, but stopped himself. “I don’t want to inspire people to compete for a seat,” he quipped. Northsider Sheila Carter-Jones, a poet and retired school teacher, has been coming to readings for a year now to “listen to writers share their craft.” She takes notes during the readings, which sometimes inspire her to create her own poems. “It’s a world eye on creativity,” she added. “These readings bring part of the world you might not otherwise be aware of.” She especially liked hearing Mandanipour, but by the time she got to the book table his books were sold out. He signed her notebook for her instead. COA/P subsequently arranged for Mandanipour to sign books for all those who were unable to get them at the reading. Before the readings, there is usually a reception catered by Kate Romane of Flying Biscotti. After the reading, the author chats one-on-one with interested guests over locally made desserts like macaroons and biscotti. Samuels said guests linger until around 9:00. Maxine Case, a South African author who read last February, remembered her reading fondly. “Some readings you want to slink away from and others you want to stay and chat—this was definitely the latter!” she remarked. “It was great to read in such a creative and intimate space…I was able to relax and build a rapport with the attendants,” Case added. Samuels also thinks the intimacy helps the guests connect with the authors and allows for lively discussions during the question-and-answer session. She remembered when the Chinese author Er Tai Gao read in November 2009, someone asked him what the situation is like in China. He compared it to 1941 Germany. “This kind of comment gives a chilling perspective on what is happening in the world right now,” Samuels said. Current COA/P writer-in-residence Khet Mar had the opportunity to talk about the situation in her home country of Burma on March 3th. She read with poets Michelle GilMontero and Román Antopolsky who have translated her work into both English and Spanish. Within a day of the announcement, the 65 available slots had filled up. With this reading, they also had a hefty waiting list.

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Khet Mar arrived in Pittsburgh in March 2009 and has enjoyed attending readings on Sampsonia Way. She said that the participants are “like a family” because they get to know one another. The readings have also provided an opportunity for her to meet and talk with international writers, a rare instance in Burma. “I lived in Burma my whole life and met two international writers there,” she said. “I can’t count how many I have met since I have come here.” As an example she cited Akhil Sharma, a fiction writer who was born in India and migrated to the United States as a child. In April 2010, she talked with him about their respective homelands. “We are neighbors; India is next door to Burma,” she explained. “Having a conversation like that is impossible in Burma.” Indeed, readings of any kind are rare in Burma. “The readings at COA/P are windows through which you can see the rest of the world,” Khet Mar said. “I wish my people could have the same experience.”

“It’s a world eye on creativity. These readings bring part of the world you might not otherwise be aware of.” Sheila Carter-Jones

“The readings at COA/P are windows through which you can see the rest of the world. I wish my people could have the same experience.” Khet Mar

Photo: Laura Mustio

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Profile for Sampsonia Way Magazine

Sampsonia Way - May 2011  

Sampsonia Way is an online magazine sponsored by City of Asylum/Pittsburgh celebrating literary free expression and supporting persecuted po...

Sampsonia Way - May 2011  

Sampsonia Way is an online magazine sponsored by City of Asylum/Pittsburgh celebrating literary free expression and supporting persecuted po...

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