Fictions of Refuge in Contemporary Culture
Instructor: Professor Thy Phu
Winter Half Course.
In 1951, the UNHCR ratified the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a landmark document that establishes the importance of narrative as a means of making visible the figure of the refugee. This course explores how culture texts shape narratives about the concept of refuge and the figure of the refugee. Through close readings of select fictions of refuge, including short stories, poems, plays, and novels, which we will put into dialogue with excerpts from essays on critical refugee studies, this course will consider: conventions of refugee narratives including reconciliation, success and gratitude; the manner in which writers and artists challenge these conventions through emphasis on themes of loss, absence, and ingratitude; the literary spaces that such fictions inhabit; the major literary tropes that bring into focus the seemingly “minor” figure of the refugee; and the ways that the refugee might serve and unsettle settler colonial interests. The fictions of refuge we will look at may include works by Dionne Brand, Rawi Hage, Thomas King, Mouawad Wajdi, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Madeleine Thien, and Kim Thúy. We may also consider short films such as How to Make a Refugee (Collins, 1999), Refugee Class 2000 (Wong, 2000); photojournalistic projects, notably Humans of New York and its feature on refugees, as well as selections from contemporary artists including Ai Weiwei, among others.