Ithaca City of Asylum

Writers Valzhyna Mort and Raul Palma share their journeys

Please join us on Tuesday, April 13, at 7 p.m. for brief readings and a conversation with poet Valzhyna Mort and fiction writer Raul Palma. Writer, actor, and ICOA board member Kate Blackwood will moderate.

UPDATE: The event was a success! Watch it on YouTube.

Valzhyna Mort is a poet and translator born in Minsk, Belarus. She is the author of the poetry collections Factory of TearsCollected Body, and Music for the Dead and Resurrected (FSG, 2020). Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry, The New Yorker, PoetryPoetry Review, Poetry InternationalPrairie SchoonerGranta, Gulf CoastWhite Review, and many more publications. She has been honored with the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry and the Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award. Mort teaches at Cornell and writes in English and Belarusian.

Raul Palma is a novelist, short story writer, and assistant professor of writing at Ithaca College, where he serves as the faculty advisor to Stillwater Magazine. His fiction has been included in Best Small Fictions 2018 and rated distinguished/notable in Best American Short Stories 2016. He has been supported by fellowships and scholarships from the CubaOne Foundation, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center, Santa Fe Writer’s Conference, Sewanee Writer’s Conference, and the Sundress Academy for the Arts. He is working on a novel titled A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens.

The session is the third of four monthly readings in “Odysseys: Ithaca Writers on Exile, Wandering, and Searching for Home.” The series is organized by Ithaca City of Asylum and cosponsored by Buffalo Street BooksGlobal CornellCornell MigrationsIthaca College Department of WritingOdyssey BookstoreStory House Ithaca, and Tompkins County Public Library.

You can watch earlier sessions and register for Session 4 at the links below.

Hear Pedro X. Molina in conversation with Barbara Adams at FLEFF

UPDATE: Watch a video of this event on YouTube.

Pedro X. Molina, an internationally acclaimed political cartoonist who fled Nicaragua with his family in December 2018, will reflect on his experiences, his cartooning, and current conditions in Nicaragua in a conversation with ICOA board member Barbara Adams on Friday, March 26, from 12 to 1:15 p.m.

The online presentation is part of the 2021 Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival, or FLEFF. You can register for the event here.

In 2019, Molina won the prestigious Maria Moors Cabot Award from Columbia Journalism School in 2019 for “career excellence and coverage of the Western Hemisphere that furthers inter-American understanding.” In 2018, he won the Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award from Cartoonists Rights Network International and an Excellence in Journalism award from the Inter American Press Association.

In May, Molina will finish his terms as ICOA’s artist-in-residence and Visiting International Scholar in Residence at Ithaca College.

Poet, war survivor to read March 19

Ithaca City of Asylum is pleased to cosponsor a reading by Dr. Patricia Jabbeh Wesley on March 19 at 4 p.m. The free online event is organized by Cornell’s Institute for African Development and will be moderated by Dr. Naminata Diabate, associate professor of comparative literature at Cornell.

You may register for the Zoom session here.

Dr. Wesley fled Liberia’s civil war in 1991 and settled in the United States with her family. She has published six books of poetry: When the Wanderers Come Home, Where the Road Turns, The River Is Rising, Becoming EbonyBefore the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa, and Praise Song for My Children

“Vulnerable in their combination of grief and levity, Wesley’s poems deal with family, community, and war,” the Poetry Foundation writes.

Wesley’s poetry and nonfiction has been published in numerous magazines and journals, including Harvard Review, Harvard Divinity Review, Transition Magazine, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard ReviewNew Orleans Review, Black Renaissance Noire, and in dozens of anthologies.

In addition to her writing, Wesley is a professor of English, creative writing, and African literature at Penn State University’s Altoona campus. She has conducted research on Liberian women’s war stories, chaired the African Literature Division of the Modern Language Association, and served as an expert witness in the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Hearings in Minneapolis.

A native of Côte d’Ivoire in West Africa, moderator Naminata Diabate is a scholar of African and African diaspora studies with an emphasis on questions of sexuality and gender studies.

Ithaca College eliminates position filled by last three ICOA writers

Pedro X. Molina delivers lecture
Pedro X. Molina lectures at Cornell’s Latin American Studies Program in March 2020. Photo by Jonathan Miller.

By Alex Hartzog, Staff Writer, The Ithacan
This article first appeared in The Ithacan on March 4, 2021. Used by permission.

After escaping from Nicaragua on Christmas Day in 2018, Pedro Molina, Ithaca College’s International Visiting Scholar in Residence, is now struggling to plan his future after the college decided to end the Scholar in Residence program. 

Ithaca City of Asylum (ICOA), an organization that offers asylum to international writers, scholars, and artists, has been sponsoring writers-in-residence, many of whom have been exiled from their home, since 2001. The Office of the Provost and the Honors Program at the college have supported three of those writers, beginning in 2012. 

The Honors Program is set to be restructured and moved from the Office of the Provost to the School of Humanities and Sciences. The restructuring of honors began in Fall 2019, the same year that Molina began his residence at the college. Dave Maley, director of public relations, said that Molina’s residency will be over at the end of the 2020–21 academic year. 

The process of phasing out the program began before the Academic Program Prioritization (APP) began. The decision to not appoint a new scholar is not specifically associated with the APP, but is consistent with its objectives, Maley said.    

The Office of the Provost told ICOA in September that it would not be seeking a scholar in residence for the upcoming year, Barbara Adams, assistant professor in the Department of Writing and founding member of ICOA, said.

Adams said ICOA began helping Molina search for alternative placements and positions that would allow him to stay in the U.S. and sponsor his visa, as ICOA does not have necessary funds to sponsor Molina’s residency without support from the college. While in Ithaca, ICOA helps pay visa, legal and housing fees for Molina and his family, Adams said.

Molina is a cartoonist who draws daily comics for Confidencial, a Nicaraguan digital publication. Molina fled Nicaragua after police raided the offices of Confidencial, killing one journalist and jailing two others. He said being able to continue his work in safety has helped him greatly, as he no longer has to fear for his family’s or his own safety. 

“The problem is, the situation in my country — the crisis — is still going on,” Molina said. “It’s even worse than when I left. Going back is not an option.” 

This semester Molina is teaching three courses, two in the Department of Art and one in honors. Molina said he feels the main benefit his involvement in the Scholar in Residence program has on his students is the unique perspective he is able to provide. 

“[The reason the program is valuable] to the Ithaca community is that they are able to learn from a different perspective, different sensitivity, about what is happening around the world and how the rest of the world sees what is happening in the U.S.,” Molina said. “You are learning firsthand from other cultures, other ways of life, other problems that could be happening in the world without you even knowing.”

Raza Rumi, former scholar in residence, director of the Park Center for Independent Media and a current board member of ICOA, said that the Scholar in Residence program was extremely valuable to him and his family. His two-year residency spurred him on to continue teaching at the college.

“It enabled me, first of all, to become a part of a very vibrant community on campus and outside the campus and it enabled me to continue work on my writing and journalism,” Rumi said. “It also facilitated a career transition for me because when I started teaching, I started liking it very much, so I chose to adopt this as my new career.” 

Alicia Swords, associate professor in the Department of Sociology and former director of the Honors Program, said the Scholar in Residence program allowed honors to offer classes from the perspective of those who are being targeted for their actions and views.  

“I think the innovative contribution of this program is that it brings people who suffer personally — human rights abuses and violations of their rights — to be educators at our college,” Swords said. “I think that’s a model that really should be replicated, not undone. It’s a model for knowledge to be created by the people most directly affected. … It’s a real shame that Ithaca College isn’t resourcing this program.”  

Sophomore Taspia Arpee is currently taking Molina’s honors class about political cartoons. While Arpee had no experience in cartooning or politics, Molina’s perspective and experience has made the class enjoyable and easy to understand, Arpee said. 

“When we talk about Latin America in specific, he talks about how so many journalists don’t have the space to talk about things and how that kind of changes the way that their political cartoons are made,” Arpee said. “We can see the difference between the ways certain events are portrayed in different countries compared to how they are here.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Molina’s time at the college has been different from the previous scholars because he had to move to remote instruction for his classes. Molina said that this hindered his ability to create relationships with the college community. 

“I was hoping that I could get a chance to remain at IC, but I have been told that because of the budget restrictions that the pandemic put onto the college that it would be very difficult,” Molina said. “The reason I left Nicaragua is because there is a dictatorship going on down there and me being a cartoonist, I was drawing about this stuff, so I had to get out to keep doing these cartoons.”

Alex Hartzog can be reached at ahartzog@ithaca.edu

Local writers share their journeys in “Odysseys” series

Odysseys event poster

Homer’s Odyssey recounts the adventures of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, as he seeks to return home after the Trojan War. In four monthly readings, pairs of Ithaca‑based writers provide their own takes on the theme of odysseys, from the physical to the intellectual to the emotional.

“Odysseys: Ithaca Writers on Exile, Wandering, and Searching for Home” is organized by Ithaca City of Asylum and cosponsored by Buffalo Street Books, Global Cornell, Cornell Migrations, Ithaca College Department of Writing, Odyssey Bookstore, Story House Ithaca, and Tompkins County Public Library.

All readings are via Zoom and begin at 7 p.m. Admission is free. Please register for each event separately.

  • Session 1: Tuesday, Feb. 23 (watch on YouTube): Gail Holst-Warhaft and Aoise Stratford, moderated by David Guaspari
  • Session 2: Tuesday, March 16 (watch on YouTube): Sorayya Khan and Raza Rumi, moderated by Barbara Adams
  • Session 3: Tuesday, April 13 (watch on YouTube): Valzhyna Mort and Raul Palma, moderated by Kate Blackwood
  • Session 4: Tuesday, May 18 (register): Minfong Ho and Kenneth A. McClane, moderated by Edward Hower

About the authors

Gail Holst-Warhaft (February 23) has been a poet, translator, journalist, academic, and musician. Born in Australia, she lived for five years in Greece, where she played harpsichord with the composer Mikis Theodorakis and wrote two books about Greek popular music. After moving to Ithaca in 1980, she received a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at Cornell and taught courses on Mediterranean culture. She is a board member and former chair of Ithaca City of Asylum. Gail has published two books on grief and lament, many translations of Greek literature, and two collections of her own poetry. One, Penelope’s Confession, is written from the perspective of Odysseus’ wife.

Aoise Stratford (February 23) is a dramaturg, writer, and lecturer at Cornell. Her plays have won several awards and been produced around the world, including at National Theatre London, The Seymour Center, InspiraTO Festival, Solo Chicago, Centenary Stage, and others. Her play The Unfortunates won the 2012 Susan Glaspell Award and was a Time Out NY Critics Pick. Locally, she has co-authored two walking headphone plays for The Cherry Arts and adapted A Christmas Carol for The Hangar Theatre. She grew up in Australia.

Sorayya Khan (March 16) is the author of the novels Noor, Five Queen’s Road, and City of Spies, which received the Best International Fiction Book Award from the Sharjah International Book Fair. She is the recipient of a U.S. Fulbright Research Grant, a Malahat Review Novella Prize, and a Constance Saltonstall Artist Grant. Her work has appeared in Guernica, Longreads, The Kenyon Review, North American Review, Journal of Narrative Politics, and other publications. She is currently at work on a memoir.

Raza Rumi (March 16) is director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College and visiting faculty at the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs. He is the author of Delhi by Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani TravelerThe Fractious Path: Pakistan’s Democratic Transition; Identity, Faith, and Conflict; and Being Pakistani: Society, Culture, and the Arts. He co-edited a volume of essays entitled Rethinking Pakistan that was published by Anthem Press in September 2020. Raza was Ithaca City of Asylum’s writer in residence from 2015 to 2017 and now serves on the ICOA board.

Valzhyna Mort (April 13) is a poet and translator born in Minsk, Belarus. She is the author of the poetry collections Factory of Tears (Copper Canyon Press 2008), Collected Body (Copper Canyon Press 2011) and, mostly recently, Music for the Dead and Resurrected (FSG, 2020). Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry, New Yorker, Poetry, Poetry Review, Poetry International, Prairie Schooner, Granta, Gulf Coast, White Review, and many more publications. She has been honored with the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry and the Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award. Mort teaches at Cornell and writes in English and Belarusian.

Raul Palma (April 13) is a novelist, short story writer, and assistant professor of writing at Ithaca College, where he serves as the faculty advisor to Stillwater Magazine. His fiction has been included in Best Small Fictions 2018 and distinguished/notable in Best American Short Stories 2016. His work has been supported with fellowships and scholarships from the CubaOne Foundation, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center, the Santa Fe Writer’s Conference, the Sewanee Writer’s Conference, and the Sundress Academy for the Arts. Presently, he is at work on a novel titled A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens.

Minfong Ho (May 18) was born in Myanmar of ethnic Chinese parents, raised in Thailand, and educated in Taiwan and the United States. She has written several books for young adults and children, mostly set in Southeast Asia. These include The Clay Marble and Hush! She worked as a journalist in Singapore, taught at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, and ran a food program on the Thai-Khmer border for Cambodian refugees. Although she has remained a U.S. Permanent Alien for over 35 years, Ithaca has come to feel like home.

Kenneth A. McClane (May 18) is Cornell’s W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of Literature Emeritus and the author of eight books of poems, including A Tree Beyond Telling and Take Five: Collected Poems, 1971-1986. He has also written two collections of personal essays: Walls (1992) and Color: Essays on Race, Family and History (2009). He has served on the board of trustees of Adelphi University, and on the board of directors of the Tompkins County Library Foundation, the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, the New York Council for the Humanities, and the Tompkins County Community Foundation.

For more information, please contact David Guaspari at dguaspari@gmail.com.

Meet ICOA intern Mae McDermott

The ICOA board is delighted to introduce Spring 2021 intern Mae McDermott. Mae has already been of great assistance creating graphics for the “Odysseys” series, helping us make sense of our mailing lists, and looking into potential funders. We asked her to say a few words about herself.

I’m a writing major and English minor at Ithaca College, where I serve as co-editor in chief of Stillwater Magazine, layout editor of Buzzsaw Magazine, and peer tutor at the Ithaca College Writing Center. I’ve also worked as a marketing intern at Cornell University Press. My poems have been performed on the podcast Newcomers, and my essays have appeared in Oakland Arts ReviewBorrowed SolaceLoose Tooth, Off the Page, Passion Project,and Buzzsaw Magazine.

My grandfather escaped from Communist-occupied Czechoslovakia to escape danger and commit himself to a free press. Shaped by this journalistic family tradition, I have always believed in writing as a medium of human connection and peaceful self-expression.

You can learn more about Mae and read some of her work at her personal website. Welcome, Mae!

A Christmas Story

Origami bird with pen and olive branch

On Christmas Day 2018, Pedro X. Molina, his wife, and their two young children traveled from their small city in the north of Nicaragua to the airport in Managua. With just carry-on baggage, they told the authorities they were going to America to spend New Year’s with friends.

Pedro was a well-known political cartoonist whose work appeared in an opposition newspaper. Two weeks earlier, the government had taken over the newspaper’s offices, as well as those of an opposition television station. After months of increasingly menacing threats, Pedro and his wife decided it was no longer safe to stay.

The officials at the airport let them pass. The next day, the Molinas arrived in Ithaca, a place they hadn’t heard of until a short time before. They have been here ever since.

Ithaca City of Asylum paid for their airfare, found them housing and a car, helped them secure proper visas, and arranged for Pedro to teach at Ithaca College. Over the past two years, we have lent a hand with schools, English classes, lesson plans, cell phones, taxes, work opportunities, and a hundred other details.

For ICOA, this not just about helping a family in need. It is about standing up for writers, artists, journalists, and others who risk their lives to say what they think. We are part of a worldwide network of groups working to protect free expression, and what we do in our small community echoes across the planet. Your support makes it possible.

We all love happy endings, but sometimes the world makes you wait. A few days ago, the Nicaraguan government announced that it had formally taken ownership of Pedro’s newspaper’s offices. Around the same time, new laws came into effect imposing harsh penalties on Nicaraguans who dare to speak out.

With his daily cartoons and tens of thousands of social media followers, Pedro X. Molina has never stopped speaking out. He may not be able to go home right now, but he refuses to be silenced. We will do what we can to help.

We wish you a peaceful holiday and a happy and healthy New Year.

Inside the Cartoonist’s Mind

Online event Tuesday, December 1, 4 p.m. ET

How do you make sense of a complicated world in a single panel? In “Inside the Cartoonist’s Mind: Creativity in Challenging Times,” Ithaca City of Asylum’s artist-in-residence Pedro X. Molina and nationally syndicated cartoonist Rob Rogers provide a peek into their creative process, from headline to sketchbook to finished product.

The free online event takes place on Tuesday, December 1, at 4 p.m. Eastern Time via Zoom. Register here to receive the Zoom link in advance. BREAKING: If you missed it, you can see the presentation here.

Pedro X, Molina, winner of the Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award from Cartoonists Rights Network International, was forced to flee Nicaragua with his family in December 2018 during a crackdown on dissent. Rob Rogers, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, was fired by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for his cartoons critical of Donald Trump. They will discuss their experiences, then share their screens and let us watch their creations take shape.

“Inside the Cartoonist’s Mind” is organized by Ithaca City of Asylum, hosted by the Tompkins County Public Library, and funded by the Freedom to Read Foundation, which is affiliated with the American Library Association.

All are welcome, but subject matter will be targeted towards an older teen/adult audience. For more information, email ithacacityofasylum@gmail.com

“Crossing the Line” available for streaming

Crossing the Line,” our Banned Books Week presentation featuring cartoonists Pedro X. Molina and Rob Rogers, was a smash success, with more than 300 people watching from all over the world. Pedro and Rob’s stories were moving, informative, and entertaining, and their cartoons were extraordinary.

Don’t worry if you missed it — you can watch the program here. It’s one hour and sixteen minutes long and well worth the time!

New book showcases work of persecuted Greek musician

ICOA board member Gail Holst-Warhaft has translated The House with the Scorpions: Selected Poems and Song-Lyrics of Mikis Theodorakis, featuring the work of one of modern Greece’s most important musical figures. “I can’t think of anyone who has suffered more for his writings and music than Theodorakis,” Holst-Warhaft says.

The book is available at Buffalo Street Books. The remainder of this post is from the book’s publisher, Fomite.

In Greece, Mikis Theodorakis is a national icon. He is the country’s most famous composer, and a figure who has spent his life struggling against injustice and oppression in his own country and elsewhere. He has been jailed and tortured for his beliefs, continuing to produce a stream of music and poetry despite his suffering. It is time that his own poetry was recognized as an important element in his creative life.  In an age where Bob Dylan can win a Nobel Prize, and Leonard Cohen’s lyrics are treasured as poems, it is also time to recognize the importance of the song-lyric as a literary form.

Gail Holst-Warhaft, who has spent many years working with the composer as a musician, biographer and translator, has translated all of the composer’s lyrics and combined them with Theodorakis’s virtually unknown poems. Together, they reveal a man whose passion for poetry was the wellspring of his creativity. The book presents Theodorakis’s poems and lyrics in Greek and English. This makes it clear that the translations do not obey the rhyme-scheme of the originals but try to maintain rhythmic patterns that are satisfying to the English ear. This book is not only a collection of Theodorakis’s poetry, but the record of an extraordinary life.

About the author and translator

When someone asked Mikis Theodorakis where he got his inspiration for his music, he answered: “It’s very simple. I never thought of my music as anything but a way to clothe Greek poetry.”  Theodorakis is known to the world as a composer. To the English-speaking world, unfortunately, he is known principally for his film scores, particularly the score of Zorba the Greek, and a few of his popular songs. To the Greeks, Theodorakis is the man who combined the greatest poetry of their country with his own prodigious melodic gifts to create a river of unforgettable songs. Few think of him as a poet, and yet he wrote fine poems, some of which became the lyrics of his songs.

Gail Holst-Warhaft was born in Australia. Besides being a poet she has been a journalist, broadcaster, prose writer, academic, musician, and translator. In the 1970’s, while researching a book on Greek music, Holst-Warhaft performed as a keyboard-player with Greece’s leading composers, including Mikis Theodorakis. She has published translations of Aeschylus, and of a number of modern Greek poets and prose-writers. Her poems and translations of Greek poetry have appeared in journals in the US, the U.K., Australia, and Greece. Her most recent book is Lucky Country (Fomite, 2018).

For interviews and appearances, contact Gail Holst-Warhaft at glh3@cornell.edu