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Posted: Thursday, October 1, 2003


Writers and Journalists Examine War, Refuge, Double Identity and Freedom of Expression, October 2 & 5

Trent University and Champlain and Gzowski colleges are pleased to present "Embedded In Exile" - a one-day symposium of roundtable discussion and literary readings focused on press freedom and writers in exile, as part of PEN Canada’s Readers and Writers literary program.

The symposium will take place October 5 at the University’s Wenjack Theatre from 2 until 10 p.m. The event is free and open to the general public, made possible by the co-sponsorship of Peter Gzowski College and Champlain College, in collaboration with PEN Canada’s Readers and Writers program, which is funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Embedded in Exile will feature panel presentations and literary readings by Charles Foran, Saghi Ghahraman, Maggie Helwig, Ann Ireland, Sikeena Karmali, Tesfaye D. Kumsa, Benjamin Santamaria Ochoa, Goran Simic and Drew Hayden Taylor.

PEN Canada’s Readers and Writers is a new program of network building and public literary encounters in communities across Ontario to nuture public dialogue about freedom of expression, exile, immigration and resettlement, and the act of writing itself as refuge, resistance and reimagination. At the core of the program is a widespread outreach effort to bring refugees who self-identify as exiled writers into meaningful relationship with PEN Canada, literary networks and diverse audiences.

In conjunction with the symposium is a PEN Canada benefit literary reading at the Peterborough Public Library on October 2 at 7:30 p.m. Authors Charles Foran, Sikeena Karmali, Benjamin Santamaria Ochoa and Shyam Selvadurai will read from their work in the Library auditorium, at 345 Aylmer Street North. Suggested donation is between $5 and $10 at the door and proceeds go to PEN Canada. For more information call 745-5382.

PEN Canada works on behalf of writers, at home and abroad who have been forced into silence for writing the truth as they see it. It is a centre of International PEN, the worldwide literary and human rights association founded in England in 1921.

EMBEDDED IN EXILE: October 5 Program

From 2 - 3:30 p.m., the first panel called "Pressing Incivilities: Perspectives on Press Freedom, Journalists in Exile & Writing War" will feature presentations by Charles Foran, Tesfaye D. Kumsa, Benjamin Santamaria Ochoa and Goran Simic.

From 3:45 - 5:15 p.m., a second panel will focus on literary themes and processes. "Splitting Heres: Literary Elucidations of Exile, Refuge, Voice & Identity" will present Maggie Helwig, Saghi Ghahraman, Ann Ireland, Sikeena Karmali and Drew Hayden Taylor.

At 5:30 p.m. following the panels, a reception will be held in the lobby of the Wenjack Theatre, to celebrate the symposium and launch a co-published chapbook called "Open The Door," a Readers & Writers in Correspondence, an exchange between Ann Ireland and Goran Simic with excerpts of their writing. This is the first in a new series of chapbooks that will give voice to the affiliations being developed among PEN member authors and exiled writers.

At 8 p.m., Trent University English department faculty member and poet Gordon Johnston will host "Doubling Voices: An Evening of Readings," to include authors Saghi Ghahraman, Maggie Helwig, Ann Ireland, Sikeena Karmali, Goran Simic and Drew Hayden Taylor reading recent work.


The PEN Empty Chair is for PEN Canada Honorary Member, poet Mamadali Makhmudov, imprisoned in Uzbekistan. The urgency of his situation will be symbolized at this event by the on-stage Empty Chair, a tradition that PEN Canada began in 1994 to draw attention to the case of Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. The Empty Chair has been incorporated into literary festivals across Canada. A petition for his release will be available for signatures.

One of the event participants, novelist Sikeena Karmali is currently the director of a human rights agency in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and will be able to provide more context about the situation in that country regarding freedom of expression.

EMBEDDED IN EXILE: Participating Authors

Charles Foran is a Peterborough resident and the author of six books. A former vice-president of PEN Canada, he recently returned from two years in Hong Kong. His latest novel House on Fire, published by HarperCollins Canada, is a metaphysical thriller set in Asia. Earlier novels Butterfly Lovers (1996) and Kitchen Music (1994) make use of settings as various as Montreal, Beijing, Saigon, and rural Ireland. Non-fiction works include a book about China in the wake of the 1989 democracy movement, Sketches in Winter (1992), and a narrative about a family in Belfast, The Last House of Ulster (1995). Foran's recent journalism credits include TIME, GQ, The National Post, Toronto Life and Enroute. Foran also makes radio documentaries for the CBC program IDEAS including India: A Billion Conversations Now, which first aired in November, 2002. Charles Foran was born and raised in Toronto. He was educated at the University of Toronto and the University College, Dublin, where he received an MA in Irish literature. He lives in Peterborough with his family.

Saghi Ghahraman fled Iran in 1981 after country-wide arrests of Tudeh Party members and its Women’s organization branch took place. She lived as a refugee in Turkey before emigrating to Canada in 1988. She has published four collections of Persian poetry and short fiction, and has given readings in Europe through Persian literary organizations of writers-in-exile as well as, in English, at Montreal’s Blue Metropolis festival. She has been an editorial board member of Sepidar, Persian literary magazine in Toronto, and contributed to various Persian quarterlies and magazines. She is a member of PEN Canada and a contributing editor with Descant: A Literary Quarterly.

Maggie Helwig was born in Liverpool, England, and raised in Kingston, Ontario. She has published six books of poetry and, in 2001, her debut novel Where She Was Standing. She has also published one book of essays, Apocalypse Jazz, and a collection of short fiction, Gravity Lets You Down. She manages a micropress, Lowlife Publishing, and was one of the coordinators of the Toronto Small Press Fair from 1998 to 2002. Her latest collection of poetry is One Building in the Earth: New and Selected Poems. Maggie has worked for human rights groups in Toronto and in London, England. She currently lives in Toronto. Her forthcoming novel about the Bosnian war and international justice, called Between Mountains, will be published by Knopf Canada in Spring 2004.

Ann Ireland is the award-winning author of three novels, A Certain Mr Takahashi (which was made into the feature film The Pianist), The Instructor, and Exile (Simon & Pierre, 2002). She teaches at Ryerson University, where she co-ordinates the Writing program in Continuing Education. She is a past president of PEN Canada. She has been a writer in residence at Trent’s Champlain College. Her novel Exile was a finalist for the 2002 Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction.

Sikeena Karmali was born in Nairobi, Kenya to Gujarati Indian parents. She was educated in Canada, the US, Italy and Egypt. Since 1994 she has worked in international development and human rights. She is currently the director of a human rights agency in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Her debut novel, A House by the Sea, was published in September 2003 by Véhicule Press’ new fiction imprint, Esplanade Books. Told with wit and charm, Karmali’s novel is about a young woman’s quest to reconcile her nomadic spirit with an inner longing for a home. Zahra Khan crosses four continents, untangling family secrets and the fateful lives of her grand-mothers. She encounters love when least expected and discovers she is not who she imagined herself to be. East meets West, and tradition clashes with modernity in an absorbing family drama reaching back through time and generations, across Arabia, India, East Africa, England, and Canada.

Tesfaye D. Kumsa is an Ethiopian journalist, songwriter, and poet, who was arrested on October 16, 1997, in a wave of arrests of journalists and political activists. Kumsa began his career as a high school English teacher; he also worked for Ethiopian Television as a senior program producer, and for Ethiopian Radio, as a freelancer. In 1994 he co-founded the newspaper Urjii. He worked there as a writer and editor-in-chief until his arrest, when the paper went out of publication. The entire staff was charged with treason. Kumsa spent three years and eight months in jail. He was released in May 2001 and fled to Kenya. Kumsa came to Canada with his wife in February 2002. Kumsa has participated in many seminars and workshops on journalism, and has recently continued production of Urjii. He is a member of both CJFE and PEN Canada.

Benjamin Santamaria Ochoa, born in Mexico City in 1955, is an accomplished writer, journalist, poet, actor, teacher and longstanding activist for the human rights of children. A recent Convention refugee in Canada, he fled Mexico in the summer of 2002 after his lawyer was shot to death by assailants who left a note behind which threatened all those involved with her on human rights issues. He has published two books in Spanish aimed at raising youth awareness of social justice issues: Don’t Forget, Mexico 68 and The Rights of Boys and Girls (Only For Those Under 18 Years Old), a friendly version of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 1997 he was appointed the first Ombudsman for the children of Mexico. Santamaría is working on a youth novel called The Monkey-King, contracted for publication in Canada in September 2004 with Tundra Books, as well as several manuscripts of memoirs and poetry.

Shyam Selvadurai was born in Colombo Sri Lanka. He came to Canada with his family at the age of nineteen. He has studied creative writing and theatre and has a B.F.A from York University. Funny Boy, his first novel, was published to acclaim in 1994 and won the W.H. Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award, in the U.S. The Lambda Literary Award, and was named a Notable Book by the American Library Association. His second novel Cinnamon Gardens has been published in Canada, the U.K, the U.S and translated into 6 languages -- Italian, French, German, Danish, Spanish and Hebrew. It was shortlisted for Ontario’s Trillium Award, as well as for the Aloa Literary Award in Denmark and the Premio Internazionale Riccardo Bacchelli in Italy.

Goran Simic was born in Bosnia in 1952 and has published eleven volumes of poetry, drama and short fiction; his work has been translated into nine languages and has been published and performed in several European countries. One of the most prominent writers of the former Yugoslavia, Simic was trapped in the siege of Sarajevo. In 1995 he and his family were able to settle in Canada as a result of a PEN Freedom to Write Award and he became a resident at the University of Toronto's Massey College as part of their writer-in-exile program. He was also a recipient of the Hellman-Hammet Grant for Free Expression. He will read from his new collection of poems from Brick Books, Immigrant Blues, which explores the personal and the public devastations of war, especially it effects on the emotions, thoughts and memories of exiled survivors.

Drew Hayden Taylor is an Ojibway from the Curve Lake First Nation, Ontario. He was born in 1962. He has won many awards as a playwright, scriptwriter and journalist, including the Dora Mavor Moore Award, the James Buller Award (twice), the University of Alaska Anchorage Native Playwriting Award, the Floyd S. Chalmers Canadian Play Award and the Canadian Authors Association Literary Award. As a journalist, Taylor has published articles and essays in many magazines and newspapers across Canada, and he has written for theatre and TV. He has also given scriptwriting and playwriting workshops. His many plays include Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth and The Girl Who Loved Her Horses; other books include Funny You Don't Look Like One and Voices: Being Native in Canada.


For further information, please contact:
Stephen Brown, Master, Champlain College, Trent University,
(705) 748-1011, Ext. 1238
Margaret Christakos, Outreach and Events Coordinator, PEN Canada Readers & Writers,
(416) 703-8448, Ext. 23

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Last Updated December 10, 2003