Wales PEN Cymru is one of 145 PEN centres in more than 100 countries across the world. It is affiliated to PEN International which is the leading voice of literature worldwide promoting literature and defending freedom of expression. It campaigns on behalf of writers around the world who are persecuted, imprisoned, harassed and attacked for what they have written. It was therefore fitting that Wales Pen Cymru met at the Hay festival on Saturday 28th May to announce the winner of the nominee for the PEN International New Voices award 2016 and to discuss the launch of a refugee writers project.
The day started at midday with a group of local writers who agreed to mentor refugee writers and learn from each other, a number of writers including people seeking refuge living in Swansea, Cardiff and Newport and members of Wales PEN Cymru who met over coffee to get to know each other. Some then went to explore Hay with local writer Oliver Balsch and others to events for which the Festival committee had kindly provided tickets.
At 4pm the group reconvened with Chair Menna Elfyn to announce various awards and prizes. Tom Cheesman from Swansea university, who set up Hafan Books in 2003 to publish refugee and Welsh writers’ work, outlined a project to run over the next year to promote writing by people seeking asylum or refuge in Wales. Dylan Moore, originally from Bwlch, but now based in Newport as a writer, activist and film critic talked about his creative writing project involving schools and people seeking refuge where experiences could be pooled with great mutual benefit. What had people lost in fleeing their countries and what our country would gain by welcoming them were posed as questions to explore by Norbert MBU-MPUTU.
We were treated to presentations by Eric Charles, a refugee from Cameroon, who read some of his expressive poetry which started with his trademark singing and a thought provoking discussion led by Norbert who started by asking if anyone had ever owned a potted plant. He then used this allegorically to illustrate the difficulties in becoming potbound, breaking out of ones pot and needing more than just food and water to flourish.
Some of Hay Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees supporters were present at the meeting and have offered to work with Wales PEN Cymru and Tom Cheesman to promote writing by people seeking refuge or asylum. We have been selling Hafan books around town, collecting monies, Fundraising and having fun.
Paddington, possibly one of the most famous refugees, made several visits to town amid great acclaim. He was ably portrayed by Meriel Green who braved extreme heat to don fur and mask and dance around Hay market to promote our Refuge café in Hay Parish Hall.
Photos (c) Chris Green.