To What Do I Belong?

To what do I belong?  Family, friends, region, tribe, religious denomination, ethnic groups, class, gender, race, work, neighborhood, country, political parties--in our daily lives we navigate between different markers, adjusting our speech patterns and behavior to the demands of each encounter,  narrating to ourselves stories about how and why we come to occupy a particular place in the scheme of things. Poets and writers, playwrights and filmmakers, all specialize in translating these private narratives into public discourse. What surfaces in their imagination is designed to reach broad audiences, and these stories can then shape the very ways in which societies view themselves.

In a period of tumultuous change such as the present, a group of distinguished IWP alumni met in  May of 2017 in Tangier (Morocco) to address the question: to what do I belong? And, can new ways of telling counter the eruption of extremism created in part by the inadequacy of prevailing narratives of belonging and inclusion?

Read the essays here or scroll down for a .pdf. 


In addition to plays for stage, radio, and television, Karim ALRAWI is the author of two children’s books, and of the novel Book of Sands (2015), which won the HarperCollins Best New Fiction Prize. His honors include the John Whiting Award (UK), the Samuel Beckett Award for the Performing Arts (UK), Parent Magazine’s Gold Award for Children’s Fiction (USA), National Playwriting Award (Canada) and several Canada Council for the Arts awards; he was twice a recipient of the Egyptian Ministry of Culture's Theatre and Youth Award for his plays. A former editor of the magazines Inquiry (UK) and Arabica (USA), he has taught creative writing at the University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia, the American University in Cairo, and elsewhere. He lives in Canada.

Said EL HAJI debuted in 2000 with [The Days of Shaytaan], which depicts the void between emigrant parents and their westernized children, and has since written many short stories, including "Little Hamid," which won the El Hizjra Literary Prize. In 2006 he published [Divine Demon], a fictionalized account of changing attitudes in The Netherlands’ multicultural society, and in 2011 [The Announcement], a historical novel about pre-Islamic Mecca. Since 2012 he publishes regularly in the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant. His most recent work [Get Up and Live, Father] (2013) is a collection of personal essays about patriarchal culture; [The Brothers Haji] is a novel-in-progress.  

Alisa GANIEVA is a fiction writer and essayist from Dagestan (southern Russia), now based in Moscow. In 2009 she published Salam Dalgat!  under a male pseudonym, winning the national Debut Prize. Her next novel appeared in the US in 2015 as The Mountain and The Wall; the most recent, shortlisted for the 2015 Russian Booker, will come out in the US in 2018 as Bride and Groom. In 2015 The Guardian listed her among the “30 most talented young people living in Moscow.” Her stories, articles, and reviews are widely published, translated, and anthologized.

Harris KHALIQUE is the author of eight poetry collections, including Between You and Your Love (2004), Ishq ki taqveem mein (2006) and Melay mein (2012), which won the 2013 UBL Literary Excellence Award for Urdu poetry. His poems have been anthologized internationally. His collection of essays, Crimson Papers: Reflections on Struggle, Suffering and Creativity in Pakistan, appeared in 2017. A campaigner for workers’, women’s, and minority rights in Pakistan and abroad, Khalique contributes regularly to national and international news publications. He lives in Islamabad. 

Birgül OĞUZ was among the winners of the 2014 European Union Prize for Literature for her second short fiction collection Hah (2012); her first, Fasulyenin Bildiği, appeared in 2007.  A PhD candidate in English Literature at Boğaziçi University, she lectures on literature at independent academic institutions and theater houses in Istanbul.

Ukamaka OLISAKWE writes TV scripts (most recently the series “The Calabash”), essays, short stories, and has one novel, The Eyes of a Goddess (2012). Selected in 2014 by the Africa39 Project as one of the continent’s most promising writers under the age of 40, she has had her work appear in the New York Times and on the BBC, and has been published in JaladaSarabaSentinel Nigeria and Short Story Day Africa. She lives in Lagos.

Kiki PETROSINO is the author of three books of poetry: Witch Wife (2017), Hymn for the Black Terrific (2013) and Fort Red Border (2009). Her poems and essays have appeared in Best American Poetry, The New York Times, FENCE, Gulf Coast, Jubilat, Tin House and on-line at Ploughshares; she is also the co-editor of Transom, an on-line poetry journal. She teaches English at the University of Louisville, and directs the Creative Writing Program there. Her awards include a residency at the Hermitage Artist Retreat, and research fellowships from the University of Louisville and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

Patrícia PORTELA has written and coordinated nearly twenty award-winning stage performances and live art works across Europe, the Middle East, China, and Brazil. Widely anthologized, she is the author of the novels Para cima e não para norte (2008), Banquete and A coleção privada de Acácio Nobre (2016). In 2015 she was one of the five finalists of the MediaArt Sonae /Chiado Museum prize. A founder of the cultural association Prado, she teaches regularly at Forum Dança and in the graduate programs of the Theatre and Cinema school, both in Lisbon, as well as in the Program for Visual Criticism and Film at the University of Antwerp.

Mabrouck RACHEDI is a French-Algerian novelist, essayist, columnist and former equity analyst. He is the author of the novels Tous les hommes sont des causes perdues (2015), La petite Malika (co-written with his sister Hahiba Mahany; 2010), Le petit Malik (2008) and Le Poids d’une âme (2006), and the book-length essay Éloge du miséreux (2007). His short stories have appeared in the Japanese literary magazine Bungakukai, in the collections Algéries 50 and Chroniques d’une société annoncée, and in the Moroccan magazines OCP and Le Courrier de l’Atlas, where he contributes a monthly column. He wrote scenarios for animated short against discriminations for the association Remem’Beur, and for the Musée de l’Histoire de l’Immigration, and regularly teaches workshops and visits schools, particularly in the French banlieues.

Eleni SIKELIANOS is the author of eight books of poetry, most recently Make Yourself Happy (2017), and two hybrid memoirs (The Book of Jon and You Animal Machine). Among her awards are two National Endowment for the Arts grants and the National Poetry Series. Her work has been widely anthologized, and translated into a dozen languages. Currently she is translating Moroccan novelist Mohamed Leftah’s Une Chute infinie. She has taught poetry in public schools, homeless shelters, and prisons, and collaborated with musicians, filmmakers, and visual artists. A professor of creative writing at the University of Denver, she is also guest faculty for the Naropa Summer Writing Program, and for L’Ecole de Littérature in France and Morocco.


Christopher MERRILL has published six books of poetry, including Watch Fire, for which he received the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets; many edited volumes and books of translations; and six works of nonfiction, among them, Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan WarsThings of the Hidden God: Journey to the Holy Mountain, and The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War, chronicling his travels in Asia and the Middle East in the wake of the war on terror. His work has been translated into twenty-five languages; his honors include a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. A member of the National Council on the Humanities and the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, he directs the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.

Happening Now

Find Us Online