Asylum Stories: Fact, Fiction, Truth

Photographs of Dina Nayeri, Ruth Padel, Juliet Stevenson, Ellen Wiles and Maya Youssef

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With Dina Nayeri, Ruth Padel, Juliet Stevenson, Ellen Wiles and Maya Youssef

Through readings, song, stories and discussion, this event chaired by Juliet Stevenson explores how asylum seekers are represented in fiction, poetry and storytelling.

Our panel of novelists, poets and storytellers discusses how literature exploring refugee experiences has evolved over the last decade, and how literary storytelling compares to media and political narratives and to the realities of seeking asylum in the British immigration system under the hostile environment policy.

At a time of surging populism and anti-immigration sentiment, this is a timely event featuring some of the most compelling contemporary writing on the subject. 

With Ruth Padel (author of The Mara Crossing), Dina Nayeri (author of The Ungrateful Refugee), Ellen Wiles (author of The Invisible Crowd) and Maya Youseff (composer/singer/storyteller – The Seven Gates of Damascus).

Ruth Padel is Professor of Poetry at King’s College London, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Her poetry and prose collectionThe Mara Crossing is a meditation on all aspects of migration. Dark Water Burning World, her collaboration with Syrian artist Issam Kourbaj on refugees on Lesbos performed in Refugee Week at V&A, the Venice Biennale and New York, will be followed by their work with refugees on the Scottish island of Bute.

Dina Nayeri is the author of The Ungrateful Refugee, and two novels. Born in Iran during the revolution, she arrived in America as a refugee aged ten. She is the winner of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, an O Henry Award and the UNESCO Paul Engle Prize. Her work has been published in over 20 countries, and by the New York Times, Guardian, Wall Street Journal and Granta. She lives in London.

Juliet Stevenson CBE is one of Britain’s leading actors, having worked extensively in film and television, and for a wide range of theatres including the RSC, the National Theatre, the Royal Court, the Young Vic and the Almeida Theatre. She is a committed advocate and activist on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers. She is an Ambassador for Amnesty International, where the focus of her work is to coordinate between Amnesty’s refugee work and that of the many smaller charities and NGOs on the ground. Juliet visited the Jungle in Calais regularly and co-ran several projects there. She is patron of the refugee charities Young Roots, Breaking Barriers, and the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants, and has also created a local refugee support group Highgate has Heart.

Hailed as ‘queen of the qanun,’ Maya Youssef's music explores the emotional and healing qualities of music. Her debut album Syrian Dreams was highly-acclaimed in music press around the world and has led to many awards, performances on prestigious stages such as the BBC Proms and recognition from the British government of her status as an exceptional artistic talent.

Ellen Wiles is the author of The Invisible Crowd (HarperCollins, 2017), a polyphonic novel about asylum and immigration that explores the experiences of an exiled Eritrean writer in London, and Saffron Shadows (Columbia University Press, 2015), a book about literature and censorship in Myanmar. She is also a literary anthropologist, a live literature curator, a regular contributor to the TLS. She was formerly a human rights barrister and a musician.

Image of Ruth Padel © Nancy Crampton, and Dina Nayeri © Anna Leader


Name: Asylum Stories: Fact, Fiction, Truth
Where: Knowledge Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road
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When: -
Enquiries: +44 (0)1937 546546