To write in exile


The free-standing course Literary Writing in Exile will be offered this autumn for the first time after several years of planning. The course illuminates the role of literature in exile in the democratic public realm and is just as topical today as it was when the course was first conceived.

Literary Writing in Exile was created by Sofia Gräsberg, a lecturer at HDK-Valand, but will be given this fall by Daniel Gustafsson, a new member of the faculty. The purpose of the course is to give students an opportunity to develop their writing of literary fiction by reflecting critically on questions about migration between countries, languages, literary public spheres and contexts. Sofia Gräsberg recounts that the idea for the course emerged during a conversation between her and ICORN, the International Cities of Refuge Network. ICORN is an independent organisation through which member cities and regions offer shelter or sanctuary to authors and artists who find themselves in danger such as physical harm or persecution.

“The course has been in the planning for a long time but had to wait out the Coronavirus. Although it is a remote learning course and students are supposed to be able to participate from whatever country they happen to be in, we will also provide students with opportunities to meet in person on several occasions in Gothenburg,” says Sofia Gräsberg.

Portraitphoto of Sofia Gräsberg, Lecturer
Sofia Gräsberg, Lecturer

Daniel Gustafsson also believes that the chance to meet in person is very important to this otherwise quite isolated group – he assumes that some of the people who apply to the course are in exile right now.

“But of course students don’t have to be in exile or be members of ICORN to participate; they need only have experience of exile to share with the others. Personally, I’m hoping for a wide variety of students in terms of everything from age and gender to nationality, with varied experiences to share,” says Daniel Gustafsson.

New staff member of HDK-Valand
Daniel, who joins the faculty at HDK-Valand this August, lives and works in Stockholm. Like most of the other faculty members in the literary composition programme, he works as an author and translator, primarily with works written in Hungarian. He has also worked for years at Översättarcentrum (the Translators’ Centre) and at the Swedish Institute. Like Sofia, Daniel has been active in the PEN International association of writers for a long time. He will also be teaching in the Bachler´s programme in literary composition this spring.

“The exchange between countries and cultures has always interested me,” says Daniel. “I see this course as an opportunity to counteract cultural isolation and the ‘in-between state’ that is common among writers in exile. My hope is that we will be able to find a window in which to experiment through free exercises and find new ways to describe exile.”

Daniel Gustafsson on stage at a festival in Kosovo
Daniel Gustafsson on stage at a festival in Kosovo

Daniel Gustafsson’s experience as a translator will be put to good use during the course, which will include translation assignments. The course will be given in English, but students may submit their writing assignments in either English or Swedish. If they write in another language, however, as Daniel assumes some course participants will want to, translation will fit right in.

Support to authors in exile
Sofia Gräsberg too believes it’s important to create literary spaces in which this kind of meeting between languages and cultures can form, because it benefits an artist’s individual expression for them to look beyond their own horizons. New literature from other parts of the world has made a transformative impression on her personally. An important part of the course is to create opportunities for interaction, including collaborations with Göteborgs Litteraturhus (the Gothenburg House of Literature) and the Gothenburg Book Fair. The students will work on a project together where they are presented in a public forum and have a public reading. We hope they will find the course practically beneficial – not just support in their artistic development, but also the chance to read and reflect on literary texts which in different ways touch on the theme of exile. And also, to meet others in similar situations, who would otherwise have been isolated and alone in their writing.

“The importance of giving this course just now is clearly related to the ongoing weakening of democracy in the world – a disturbing development,” says Sofia Gräsberg. “And those of us who have created the course want to in a concrete way, give support to authors who are on the move, highlight the value in their writing and support the work that ICORN has begun. It is valuable for the individual personally as well as for society to draw attention to the works of threatened authors. Some very good literature has been written in exile, and this is also a way to highlight this art and contribute to the diversity of Sweden’s literary flora.”


The freestanding course Literary Writing in Exileis open for applications March 15 – April 17



The organisation’s mission is to promote freedom of expression, defend democratic values and promote international solidarity. ICORN was founded during the 1990s, and Gothenburg was the first Swedish member city. Today it includes some twenty authors, translators and journalists, but in recent years it also includes other kinds of artists who have taken refuge in Sweden through ICORN.