Writing and reading diasporas
Writing – with music and the arts – is an important medium for the expression of personal identities. It allows people to explore their own complexity, not just by expressing their gender, sexuality or ethnic identity, but all the different aspects of themselves in interaction with one another.
Letters, diaries, Facebook entries, blogs, poetry, autobiography and prose fiction are popular channels for writing about the self. All of these have been adopted by migrants and those living in diaspora to recount their experiences, and seek comfort and self-expression in the face of hostility and discrimination. They convey heartfelt truths about what it is like to be displaced, treated as a stranger, viewed as different, and poised between countries and cultures. But such writing can offer more than a means of coping and self-reflection; it can resonate with the experience of readers around the world and open up new ideas about multicultural and intercultural living.
© Tove Dalenius
Moving Manchester; writing Manchester
Find out about the many writers brought up or living in one British city, their novels and poetry, and the publishers and venues that support their work. The Moving Manchester writers gallery features creative writing and reflections by 26 authors and poets. Their memories and journeys, and feelings of displacement and reorientation are captured in their poetry and prose. They discuss how they came to write, the barriers they overcame, and the opportunities that writing, performing and publishing have made possible. Qaisra Shahraz and Mei Yuk Wong are just two of the writers featured in the gallery.
Born in Pakistan, Qaisra Shahraz is a novelist and scriptwriter who has lived in Manchester since she was nine. She is author of The Holy Woman (Arcadia Books, 2007) and Typhoon (Arcardia Books, 2007).
“The rural world [in Pakistan] I have created in Typhoon is far removed from that of Manchester, my home city. It has captured my imagination since I was seven and still continues to fascinate me. A friend from my school days marvelled as to how I could have created such a world (‘It is so real!' she exclaimed) having lived most of my life in England. It was from my childhood memories - of travelling with my maternal grandmother… her trips sowed the seeds for my writing career.” Excerpt from Typhoon
Mei Yuk Wong moved to Manchester in 2000 when she got a job at a Chinese community centre.
“Before that I had never visited the city. It was a brave decision to come to a strange area without any friends or family. During the first few weeks at work I felt overwhelmed by the complexity of the city and its communities… ‘ Hope is on the Way if you Stay’ is a new poem. Basically, I look at my journey from Hong Kong to London, and then from London to Manchester. These nine years seemed to be a period of intensive training in my work and study. I have tried making artwork and writing poetry in spite of demanding jobs. There is so much to write and I cannot put it all down in 40 lines! It is just like a summary of my experiences, feelings and emotions.”
Read the work of other Manchester-based writers and learn more about diasporic writing and performance in Scotland.
Reading, migration and the imagination
If writing enables professional and amateur writers to explore migration, belonging and self-identity, reading offers the freedom to roam imaginatively in new places as well as exposure to new experiences and the chance to reflect on one’s own place, time, journeys and identities. Reading can connect readers in one part of the world with events in another and can get people thinking about what it means to be part of a diasporic community. It can also allow readers in places with few migrants to gain imaginative access to the lives of people from different backgrounds and cultures.
© Devolving Diasporas
How do readers in different part of the world respond to stories about migration and diasporas? A group of researchers worked with book groups and public libraries to find out. Reading groups in the UK, Canada, Africa, India and the Caribbean read classic and contemporary novels including Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, White Teeth by Zadie Smith, Small Island by Andrea Levy and Brick Lane by Monica Ali. With the help of the British Council, readers were linked up so that they could participate in online chat about the texts. The team asked, ‘What sense do readers make of the novels and their themes of diaspora, migration, memory and identity?’ ‘How do they relate them to their own experiences (whether or not they are migrants themselves)?
Here’s what readers from one group in Kano, Nigeria, had to say about the three books they read: Small Island, Brick Lane, and White Teeth. Their discussion was recorded and transcribed; there were six speakers. The final speaker summarises what they got from reading the books.
S4 yeah we travelled to different places
S2 yeah we travelled yes
S6 around the world
S4 I went to Jamaica (laughs) I loved Jamaica
S6 I was in Bangladesh ... in Brick Lane too
S4 I went to Portugal was it Portugal that they had that war that guy with the bleeding that was supposed to die I went there too (laughs)
S6 yes yes I was on Brick Lane and it's a beautiful street
S4 yeah I'm from Brick Lane
S6 I love the street I was there
S4 I stopped at page 17
S6 and fought a man in India it was beautiful it was beautiful
S1 and the second world the second world war
S5 yeah the second world war
S6 yeah Mangal Pande
S5 most people have experienced what they wouldn't normally have experienced you were living a lifetime that was was not yours you know you read about the past you know it takes you back it takes you to different situations you wouldn't normally find yourself ... so that I think that's the idea behind books most of the time