A World Refugee Day Reading List

We’ve written in the past about how much writing and writers can nourish and sustain us. As Anne Lamott put it, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life:

Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. … It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.

Singing in the storm is all too apt an analogy to use on June 20th, which has been marked as World Refugee Day since the beginning of this millennium. This year, UNHCR’s official statistics tell a shocking story: 70.8 million people forced from there homes, among them almost 26 million refugees, over half of whom are children.

Many of us know what this looks like all too well: we have worked alongside people fleeing; we have known them as friends, family, neighbors, colleagues; we have advocated for and defended their rights. We have celebrated the hospitality of those that open their homes and businesses and borders; raged against the hostility of those who want to build literal or figurative walls; and despaired the apathy of those who don’t seem to care. Some of us are refugees ourselves.

Every person has a story to tell. Those who, at some point in their lives, find themselves living as refugees are no exception. Some have written down their stories, and shared them with the world–even if that meant sending them via text message from Manus Island.

This #WorldRefugeeDay, we have put together a list of six great books authored by women and men who, among many other identities, are or were refugees. Read on for our recommendations and  Continue reading

Advertisements

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers. Postscript.

This post is written by Rachel Unkovic, an aid worker, artist and oral historian. This is the final post in a serial, to follow along read:

…the first post here

…the second post here

…and the third post here.

~~~

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers.

Postscript.

~~~

35.) Edith Wharton was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for literature for The Age of Innocence. She was the first woman in the history of the prize to win one. Continue reading

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers. Part III.

This post is written by Rachel Unkovic, an aid worker, artist and oral historian. This is the third post in a serial, you can read the first post here and the second one here.

Edith_Wharton_with_soldiers

Edith Wharton with WWI soldiers. Source: The US WWI Centennial Commission website

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers.

Part III

~

27.)  I read The Age of Innocence in the summer of 2013, while working at the AkçakaleTal Abyad border crossing.

~

28.) The Age of Innocence is not about war, yet Edith wrote it after experiencing a war.

~

29.) The Age of Innocence is not violent or cruel, like its predecessor, The House of Mirth, yet Edith wrote it after witnessing violence. She wrote it after seeing the impact of human cruelty on the bodies of women, men and children. From the war, Edith—an expat, always more privileged, always safer—didn’t shrink into cynicism but grew her own capacity for generosity.

~

30.) One day in late August 2013, I was curled up with the book in a dusty plastic chair in no-man’s-land between Turkey and Syria, waiting for a drug shipment to clear the crossing, bound for three health centers. Gunshots shattered the air. They were close as fuck. Surrounding me, security men whipped out their Nokias, texting furiously to Continue reading

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers. Part II.

This post is written by Rachel Unkovic, an aid worker, artist and oral historian. This is the second post in a serial, you can read the first post here.

800px-Edith_Newbold_Jones_Wharton

Photograph of Edith Wharton, taken by E. F. Cooper, at Newport, Rhode Island. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University. Source: Wikimedia Commons

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers.

Part II

16.) Edith published The House of Mirth in 1905. Picture it: 1890s New York City. Lily Bart, 29 years old and beautiful, becomes embroiled in romantic scandal. She spirals into a tailspin, descending from New York City elite to the margins of society, where she dies, impoverished, in a delirium of drugs, suicidal, clutching an imaginary child to her breast—drowned by beauty and cruelty.

~

17.) The House of Mirth has been called “a vicious indictment of a morally corrupt upper class”. It was the world that Edith had been born into. Her rage flashed and scorched.

~

18.) The House of Mirth was very successful.

~

19.) Edith divorced her husband in 1913. She left for Europe to wash him off her skin.

~

20.) June 1914. World War I erupted. As other Americans fled, Edith stayed in Paris. She joined up, first as a funder, later as an organizer, with a group of aid workers. In August, they opened up a house where war-affected women could access food, work and cash.

~

21.) Towards Christmas, as refugees poured into the Paris, Edith and her friends Continue reading

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers. Part I.

This post is written by Rachel Unkovic, an aid worker, artist and oral historian. This is the first post in a serial–stay tuned for more.

The Age of Innocence ?1788 by Sir Joshua Reynolds 1723-1792

“The Age of Innocence” from which Edith Wharton derived the title of one of her books. Painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, it was commissioned as a character study or ‘fancy picture’. Source: Tate (check out their website for more interesting stories about the painting itself)

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers.

Part I

1.) Edith Newbold Jones was born on 24 January 1862 in New York City to a mother, a father, and two much older brothers.

~

2.) The Civil War was raging. It depreciated American currency. Her mother and father whisked their three children off to Europe where their money meant more.

~

3.) Edith was privileged as fuck. If you have heard the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses” and wondered to whom it refers, allow me to introduce to you Edith’s father, George Fredric Jones, and her mother, Lucretia.

~

4.) Toddler Edith would hold a book in her hands and pretend to read it out loud, making up stories, flipping pages periodically as if the stories were there on the ink and not just in her mind.

~

5.) She was admonished that reading was fine, but writing was certainly not the occupation of a proper young lady.

~

6.) In Europe, Edith learned to read English, French, German and Italian fluently.

~

7.) Age 11, finally back in Continue reading

Aid workers as authors? We ask an Evil Genius named J.

Once-upon-a-time-old-vintage-typewriter

Source: Typewriter or wallpaper?

“If actors can be aid workers, then aid workers can be authors.” Scrawled across the top of his Evil Genius Publishing website, this message describes two aspects in the life of J (his pseudonym). Humanitarian aid worker and prolific blogger – his sites include Tales from the Hood, AidSpeak, and being “half-owner of the über-awesome Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like” – J has also written aid worker fiction. His novels include Disastrous Passion: A Humanitarian Romance; Honor Among Thieves; Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit; and for the sci-fi lovers, Human. Then there’s his one (so far) work of non-fiction, Letters Left Unsent

As someone who struggles to write a blog post every few months while still working in the aid industry (Missing in the Mission started during a break!), it is pretty amazing to meet a person who has started three blogs, a self-publishing company (only one employee – himself – but still…), and written five books—all while keeping his day job. Thus, I asked J a few questions and he, of course, found the time to reply.

* * * * *

Missing in the Mission: You mention having a personal life as a writer as “cathartic” alongside decades of responding to large-scale disasters… were you a writer or an aid worker first? Or did they grow together, each feeding and sustaining the other? 

J: I guess you could say they grew together, although I was an aid worker / career humanitarian for many years before I began to consider myself a writer. Not too long ago I reconnected with an old roommate who recalled that even back when we were undergrads I always seemed to write with ease. It’s funny – I don’t remember writing anything in college. Certainly nothing creative or “for fun.”

Since becoming an aid worker, writing of some kind has been a consistent task in every job I’ve held. The usual reports, briefs, advocacy materials. One of the longest jobs I’ve ever had, very early in my career, was over a four year period where my primary responsibility was to write USAID and PRM grants. I was so glad when I finally left that job, I vowed never to accept another position where grant acquisition was the main focus. But in retrospect, all those Child Survival and Food Security proposals were fantastic practice for eventually writing humanitarian fiction!

In all seriousness, though, despite the fact that after four years I was sick of proposals and ready to move on, that job was excellent training for an adult life of moonlighting as a writer. The discipline of turning rambling thoughts into coherent text on a screen; the mechanics of working with large and complex documents; the value of a robust editorial and review process, and as part of that the thick skin that comes with having your Continue reading