Stories in Transit: Telling the tale in times of conflict

Marina Warner, Professor of English and Creative Writing in Birkbeck’s School of Arts, is organising a three-day conference in the historic Marionettes Museum in Palermo, Italy, from 26-28 September 2016. The conference will bring together artists and writers, people with first-hand experience of migration, representatives of NGOs working with migrant and refugee groups, and teachers of Italian as a second language.

The conference falls within a broader project which seeks to create a toolkit, probably in the form of a Story Box, to support storytelling, culture and entertainment in places such as refugee camps, reception centres, and housing shelters.

Stories in Transit aims both to give a voice to those who have experienced dislocation and loss of home and to create mutual understanding, by exchanging stories about the different traditions, languages and experiences of so many displaced people, many of them minors.

During the three days there will be academic papers, performances, and reflections from the artists and contributions from NGO representatives. The workshops and sessions will consider questions such as:

-          Can culture, in particular storytelling in all its forms, provide a refuge for those who have lost their own homes? Can a story become a home in itself?

-          In times of serious physical deprivation, we must consider the right of individuals to realise their own creative potential. What steps can be taken to affirm the rights of refugees and migrants to liberty of thought and imagination, and to intellectual mobility?

-          What role can fantasy stories play in the current situation? How can the ancient skill of telling and passing on stories help in today’s crisis?

-          What methods and processes can be developed to enable the creation and growth of new stories? What is the best way to support the exchange of stories across borders, cultures and languages?

Professor Warner says: “I am very much looking forward to the opportunity to work with participants from varied backgrounds, each of whom can make a contribution to storytelling in situations where people’s physical and emotional needs are often not being met.

“I hope that the conference will lead to a better understanding of how writers, artists, performers, academics and teachers can support migrants and refugees to express their creativity,  and in doing so share stories that will transcend the conditions that they find themselves in. I believe the conference and broader project have a very valuable contribution to make to discussions about the rights of migrants and refugees today.”

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