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Commonwealth Writers Conversations

Launched as part of our partnership with Hay Festival, Conversations is a series which invites activists and artists from around the world to talk about subjects which are often met with silence in their societies. The idea is to create safe spaces where communities can share ideas and talk openly.


London, United Kingdom. 2014.

Of the 53 member nations of the Commonwealth, 42 continue to criminalise consensual same-sex activities between adults. How can writers kickstart social change before the legislative process starts?

Writers Shyam Selvadurai, Thomas Glave, and visual activist Skye Skyetshooki have all faced the dilemma between living in fear and silence at home, or speaking freely in another country. In a conversation chaired by BBC journalist Razia Iqbal, they talk about their personal experiences and the choices and compromises they’ve had to make.

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Kampala, Uganda. 2014.

Three international campaigners, DRIK founder and photographer Shahidul Alam, academic Dr. Cresantia Frances Koya Vaka’uta and playwright Mike van Graan, explore how the arts can be used for development in more imaginative ways and the need for more South to South dialogue.

Can writers and arts organisations be more effective in putting culture on the political agenda as a driver of sustainable development? Chair Ellah Allfrey opens the debate.

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Hay Festival, United Kingdom. 2014.

Daniel Hahn talks to British novelist Maggie Gee, Sri Lankan writer Michael Mendis and writer and environmental activist Diana McCaulay, from Jamaica, about how the environment affects their work. The panel discusses the fine line between fiction and activism and asks whether fiction can inspire us to live differently.

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Hay Festival Dhaka, Bangladesh. 2013.

Writer Munize Manzur, feminist activist Professor Firdous Azim, academic Shuchi Karim and human rights lawyer Faustina Pereira explore women’s sexuality in Bangladesh with BBC journalist Razia Iqbal. To what extent can creative expression be a space where women in particular can talk about different issues and try to change society’s perceptions? From women’s bodies to how Bangla as a language helps enshrine heterosexual norms, the conversation puts topics which are rarely given a public forum into the spotlight.

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London, United Kingdom. 2014

Humour can help us to make sense of the world, but are some things off-limits?

Forward Prize winning poet Kei Miller, novelist Leila Aboulela, and Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner Jennifer Makumbi talk about crossing cultures with humour and read from their work, in a conversation chaired by Romesh Gunesekera.

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Hay Festival, United Kingdom. 2013.

As a novelist, how do you tackle something that’s in the news, about which there’s already prevailing political rhetoric, without sounding like you are beating a particular drum? How do you work against stereotypes, whether of palm trees and paradise in the Caribbean or refugees arriving by boat in Australia?

Writers Michelle de Kretser, Monique Roffey and Kamila Shamsie discuss with BBC journalist Razia Iqbal how the geography, history and spirit of place can be illuminated through fiction.

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London, United Kingdom. 2014.

Commonwealth Shorts is a capacity building scheme that gives emerging writer-directors the opportunity to make a short film which highlights issues affecting their communities. From migration and barrel children to the re-discovery of First Nations traditional childbirth teachings, each film tells a local story, and can be viewed here.

The five Commonwealth Shorts filmmakers – Lisa Harewood, Jules Koostachin, Oscar Kightley, Kareem Mortimer and Wanjiru Kairu  – share their experiences of the process with broadcaster Rosie Goldmith and ask if there’s such a thing as a common story.

 

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