Creative Writing Workshop Brings Many Firsts to Eritrea
March 5, 2019
In partnership with ECA’s Cultural Programs Division and the University of Iowa, the implementor of the International Writing Program (IWP), the Collaboratory supported the Lines & Spaces Creative Writing Workshops in Eritrea. A first for both IWP programming in Eritrea, as well as the first U.S. Embassy Asmara partnership with the Collaboratory, the program focused on strengthening civil society through skill development of local writers and increasing the number of individuals and organizations engaging in cultural and educational activities.
A three-day workshop was conducted by American authors Christopher Merrill, Caite Dolan-Leach, Douglas Manuel, and Zaina Arafat, which began with welcoming remarks and a first-time visit to the American Spaces in Asmara from the Eritrean Commissioner of Sport and Culture- Ambassador Zemede Tecle. The workshop not only provided access to American writers, but it also allowed the U.S. Embassy to engage with a previously underserved community of writers and to work closely with the Eritrean Ministry of Sports and Culture who selected the core group of 28 participating writers, representing writers at various points in their career, from well-respected writers from the Eritrean canon to young writers just beginning.
The American writers introduced Eritrean writers to the distinct literary-cultural landscape in America while learning about Eritrean literature and the challenges faced by professional writers. For most of the participants, it was their first time meeting an American author as well as the first time they participated in this kind of a writing workshop. One writer noted, “We never really had a workshop like this one, let alone one that was organized by professional American authors. As an English novels and short stories writer myself, I learned that there’s much more for me to go.”
An extended two-week workshop followed the initial training led by Caite Dolan-Leach, where writers gained valuable feedback on their work from their peers. The biggest takeaway for many of the participants was a change in perspective of identifying as an international writer, not just as an Eritrean writer. The workshop not only gave them critical skills to be better writers, but the cultural exchange allowed them to see themselves as part of the greater international writing community. At the end of the workshop, many writers expressed interest in translating their writings into English and made concrete plans for publishing their work.