Endangered writers from all over the world can seek refuge in Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum, writes Aljazeera America, which profiles the organization in a recent issue. Among the highlights:
The nonprofit provides free housing and a stipend to writers who endured imprisonment and other hardships in their home countries for writing about controversial topics.
Henry Reese founded City of Asylum in the Northside in 2004, inspired by writer Salman Rushdie. While visiting Pittsburgh, Rushdie spoke of literary asylums that he and other writers had prompted governments to create in Europe. Reese’s asylum differs because it was started by a private citizen without state sponsorship, but still provides artists a space that allows them to work without fear.
Among those who currently call City of Asylum home is Iranian writer Yaghoub Yadali, whose depiction of an “adulterous affair” in his first novel landed him in jail.
Yadali spent 41 days in prison and the next four years under harassment and constant fear of imprisonment before accepting fellowships at Harvard and the University of Iowa where he learned of the Pittsburgh program.
“Since coming here I have been able to write without worrying about censorship or persecution,” Yadali tells Aljazeera.
City of Asylum operates with an annual budget of $750,000 and hopes to reach $1 million by the end of the year. Since its 2004 opening, the nonprofit has expanded to several more houses to accommodate more artists applying for residency.
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