Tompkins Weekly Staff
ITHACA – Ithaca City of Asylum’s “Voices of Freedom” will serve a dual purpose when it takes place at the end of the month.
ICOA will mark its 15th anniversary and commemorate Banned Books Week with an event at 7 p.m. Sunday, September 25, at the Kitchen Theatre, located at 417 W. MLK Jr./State St. in Ithaca. It is free and open to the public, and refreshments will follow the program.
ICOA, a not-for-profit project of the Center for Transformative Action, provides refuge in Ithaca for dissident writers and promotes freedom of expression. Founded in 2001, ICOA is a member—one of only two in North America —of the International Cities of Refuge Network, a worldwide consortium of cities of asylum. ICOA is also a community partner of the Kitchen Theatre Company.
The September 25 event will feature a reading by ICOA’s current writer in residence, Raza Rumi, a Pakistani journalist and policy analyst who has authored a memoir, “Delhi by Heart,” and a political history of Pakistan, “A Fractious Path,” both published by HarperCollins India. Rumi is currently visiting International Scholar-in-Residence in the Honors Program at Ithaca College and teaches in the Cornell University Institute of Public Affairs. He also serves as consulting editor of the Pakistan weekly, The Friday Times, and contributes to international media outlets, including the Huffington Post, New York Times, al Jazeera and others. Since he arrived in Ithaca, he has participated in numerous local events, including Spring Writes and the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival.
Voices of Freedom will also include a panel discussion with Rumi and three of the five other writers ICOA has supported over the years. Ithaca city council member Seph Murtagh will moderate the panel. Along with Rumi, the writers are:
n Sarah Mkhonza (Swaziland) ICOA writer 2006-2008: An outspoken voice for women’s rights under the monarchical Swazi regime, Mkhonza wrote newspaper columns for the Observer and the Swazi Sun that told the daily struggles of women and children. She has published two books in Swaziland and three in the U.S., and co-founded the Association of African Women and the African Book Fund Group at Michigan State University. In 2013, Sarah joined the faculty of Stanford University.
n Sonali Samarasinghe (Sri Lanka) ICOA writer 2012-2014: An award-winning journalist and human rights activist who also practiced law for 20 years in Sri Lanka, Samarasinghe sought asylum in the U.S. after the assassination of her husband, a fellow journalist. She now is Minister Counsellor in the Sri Lankan mission to the United Nations and writes about her experiences in Sri Lankan politics and media.
n Yi Ping (China) ICOA writer 2001-2003: Poet, essayist, and democracy activist Yi Ping participated in the Students’ Democracy Movement and was permanently banned from publishing his work or working in education. He was the first writer-in-residence of Ithaca City of Asylum. Since the end of his residency, he has lived in Ithaca with his wife, translator Lin Zhou, and son. He works as an editor at Human Rights in China.
The event will include a video message from Irakli Kakabadze of the Republic of Georgia, ICOA’s writer in residence from 2008-2011. He will be joining from Barcelona, Spain, where he is an ICORN writer in residence.
Available at the event are two new chapbooks of work by our writers: “My Life in a Garden” by Sonali Samarasinghe, and “Identity, Faith, and Conflict: Essays on Pakistan and Beyond” by Raza Rumi.
For more information about Ithaca City of Asylum, visit ithacacityofasylum.com.