In the latest episode of the Peace Talks Radio public radio show and podcast, Homelands’ executive director and senior producer Jonathan Miller looks at cities of asylum (also known as cities of refuge), communities that put out the welcome mat for writers, artists, journalists, and human rights defenders whose work puts them at risk in their home countries.
As guest host, Miller interviews former Ithaca City of Asylum (ICOA) artist-in-residence Pedro X. Molina, City of Asylum Pittsburgh co-founder Henry Reese, and International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) program director Elisabeth Dyvik. Miller is a board member and former board chair of the Ithaca group.
Molina is a political cartoonist who fled Nicaragua during a violent crackdown on dissent and came to Ithaca with his family with help from ICOA. He spent two years as a visiting scholar at Ithaca College. Today he is an Artist Protection Fund Fellow in residence at Cornell University’s Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program.
Reese and his wife, Diane Samuels, heard Indian author Salman Rushdie describe the nascent cities of asylum movement in 1997, soon after he had come out of hiding after the 1989 fatwa issued against him by Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran after the publication of the novel The Satanic Verses. They decided to renovate a run-down house they had purchased near their home in Pittsburgh and make it available to an exiled writer. Since then, City of Asylum Pittsburgh has grown into a major cultural institution, with six houses for at-risk writers, an event space and bookstore, and year-round programming that celebrates the freedom to create.
Based in Stavanger, Norway, ICORN is a network of more than 70 cities worldwide where threatened writers, artists, and journalists can live and work in safety. Elisabeth Dyvik has been involved in artist protection work for more than 25 years.
Ithaca, Pittsburgh, and Detroit are the only U.S. members of the ICORN network. Programs in Las Vegas, Virginia, and Arkansas also provide two-year residencies for writers and artists fleeing persecution.
In addition to his work with Homelands and Ithaca City of Asylum, Miller is founder and co-director of Story House Ithaca, a community arts organization devoted to bringing people together around stories of all kinds.