by Hasani Hasani
“Apartheid is the period I grew up in and it is the reason I came to the UK,” said Shereen Pandit an exiled writer from South Africa as she took to the microphone at a recent “Exiled Lit” event in London.
Held at the Poetry Café in Betterton Street in London’s Covent Garden each month, the Exiled Lit event, organised by Exiled Writers Ink, has, for the past twelve years, been offering a platform to writers like Shereen to share their experiences through reading poetry and prose.
Founded by Jennifer Langer, the child of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, Exiled Writers Ink has become the destination of choice for international writers who face persecution in their home countries because of their writing.
Every first Monday of the month (except bank holidays when it is on the second Monday of the month), the basement of Poetry Café on 22 Betterton Street WC2H 9BX hosts exiled writers from different countries, whether living in the UK or just passing through, to read their work.
At the most recent event, four writers: Shereen Pandit (South Africa), Navid Hamzavi and Rouhi Sharifian (both from Iran) and Mogib Hassan (Yemen) shared the stage. The evening offered prose writers a chance to share their work – a change from other events.
“In the past, our events have focused on poetry, so writers of short stories and novels may have felt excluded over the years. We felt it was high time to give prose writers the chance to share their work, as well as poets,” said Abol Froushan, chairperson of Exiled Writers Ink.
Shereen read from her first novel ‘Burnt Child’, which chronicles the life of a South African exile in London. A lawyer by profession, Shereen came to the UK with her husband in 1987 and has won the Booktrust London Award among other short story prizes. Back in South Africa during the Apartheid era she was political activist; this put her life in danger of the governing regime and she sought sanctuary in the UK. “I wanted to struggle for our freedom like other young people were doing,” she said.
Navid Hamzavi and Rouhi Sharifian read two short stories, ‘Family Problems’, and ‘Anxiety’ respectively. The massive censorship by the notorious Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in Iran meant half of Navid’s work could not be published. In Iran, a ‘best-seller’ can only hope to sell between 3,000 to 5,000 copies despite a population of 70million, said Navid.
Mogib Hassan was attacked and detained last year in Yemen at the height of the Arab Spring. Born in Yemen and now a citizen of the Netherlands, Mogib came face to face with state brutality when he went back to his home country. “You cannot help to be an activist when you go back, because everything is possible”, said Mogib.
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