A Lifetime is a Promise to Keep: Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum program

As a brief postscript to my post about my visit to Portbou and Collioure, I would like to offer readers  a few happier endings.

In September, Henry Reese  prepared an upbeat report about Pittsburgh’s “City of Asylum” program for the PBS Newshour that features  videos describing how several writers have found a safe haven and a fresh start in this city.

In 2009, The Institute of East Asian Studies of the University of California, Berkley published a bilingual edition of poems  by the City of Asylum’s first guest artist  Huang Xiang with English translations by Michelle Yeh under the title A Lifetime is a Promise to Keep, available through the Institute’s website. A poet, painter and performer active in reform movements in China, Huang Xiang served several sentences in Chinese labor camps before he and his wife Zhang Ling were able to flee into exile in 1997. His work is banned in his homeland.

Here is a sample of his work that I found in the International Cities of Refuge website:

A heavy
brush
in hand
is like
a big trailing
mop
walking
nakedly
across the spacious paper of life
footprints of thick ink
in swift strokes
some deep, some light along the way
one after the other
releasing
lightning rods
of semen and blood

ICORN is a network of cities worldwide that offer two-year residencies to exiled writers who have suffered persecution and censorship in their homelands. The administrative center for communications between host cities is in Stavanger, Norway.


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