Roundtable Conversation: Writing Displacements into Literature


24th October 13:45 – 14:45

Chair: Prof. Philippe Sands QC (UCL and English-PEN)

Prof Lyndsey Stonebridge (Refugee Hosts – University of Birmingham)

Yousif M. Qasmiyeh (Refugee Hosts Writer in Residence – University of Oxford)


How can a critical engagement with stories, and communities of narrative, help us better understand local experiences of and responses to different forms of displacement and dispossession? How are these personal, collective and/or mythical stories themselves variously imposed, contested, mobilised and subverted through everyday encounters and histories of displacement? How do these stories connect both spatially and temporally across communities affected by displacement, whether that is in the Middle East or in other sites and spaces? In what ways does an engagement with stories, poetry and testimony challenge conventional wisdom around ‘the local’, ‘refugees’, ‘guests’ and ‘hosts’?

In this roundtable discussants will reflect on the topic of stories, dispossession and displacement, building both on the key questions highlighted above, and on their experience in this and cognate fields/cases. Participation may take the form of a reading of poetry or prose, or similar and these reflections will be followed by an engaged conversation between discussants.

As well as exploring the themes relating to this specific panel, discussants will also address one of the key questions posed by the wider Refugee Hosts research project, namely: “how can we understand local community responses to displacement?”

Biographies of chair and discussants can be found below, in addition to a recommending reading and listening list, including blog posts and appearances on the radio by the panelists.


Prof Philippe Sands QC

Philippe Sands QC is Professor of Law at University College London and a practising barrister at Matrix Chambers. He appears before many international courts and tribunals, including the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, and sits as an arbitrator at ICSID, the PCA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Philippe is the author of Lawless World (2005) and Torture Team (2008) and several academic books on international law, and has contributed to the New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, the Financial Times and The Guardian.

East West Street: On the Origins of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide (2016) won the 2016 Baillie Gifford (formerly Samuel Johnson) Prize, the 2017 British Book Awards Non-Fiction Book of the Year, and the 2018 Prix Montaigne. The sequel, which is also the subject of a BBC podcast, The Ratline, will be published in April 2020.

Philippe is President of English PEN and a member of the Board of the Hay Festival.


Prof Lyndsey Stonebridge

Lyndsey Stonebridge is Professor of Humanities and Human Rights in the Department of English Literature and Institute for Research into Superdiversity, (IRiS) at the University of Birmingham.  Her research focuses on twentieth-century and contemporary literature and history, Human Rights, and Refugee Studies, drawing on the interdisciplinary connections between literature, history, politics, law and social policy.  She is a scholar of the political philosopher, Hannah Arendt and following Arendt, adopts a comparative and question-driven approach to modern cultural history.

Her most recent book Placeless People: Writing, Rights, and Refugees (Oxford University Press, 2018) is a study of how the literature of exile gave way to a more complicated and vexed articulation of statelessness in the mid twentieth century.  Placeless People is a follow-on to The Judicial Imagination: Writing after Nuremberg (2011/14), winner of the British Academy Rose Mary Crawshay Prize for English Literature, 2016, which also took the work of Arendt as a theoretical starting point in order to think about the relation between law, justice and literature in the aftermath of total war and genocide.  Her other books include:  The Destructive Element (1998), Reading Melanie Klein (with John Phillips, 1998), The Writing of Anxiety (2007), and British Fiction after Modernism (with Marina MacKay, 2007). Lyndsey is currently completing a short polemical book for OUP’s Literary Agenda Series, Writing and Righting: Literature in an Age of Human Rights (2019).


Yousif M. Qasmiyeh

Yousif M. Qasmiyeh is Refugee Hosts’ Writer-in-Residence. He is a poet and translator, and tutor in Arabic at the University of Oxford. In addition to his academic articles and chapters, and his recent contributions to Refugee Hosts – including ‘Writing the Camp’, ‘The Camp is Time’, ‘Refugees are Dialectical Beings Parts One and Two‘, ‘A Sudden Utterance is the Stranger‘ and ‘The Jungle‘, his recent poems include ‘At the Feast of Asylum’ (GeoHumanities, 2016), ‘If this is my face, so be it’ (Modern Poetry in Translation, 2016) and ‘Thresholds’ (Critical Quarterly, 2014).

A long-standing translator of Arabic poetry, his translations of poets including Nazih Abu Afash, Tammam Al-Tillawi, Abd Al-Hadi Al-Said, Rasha Omran and Firas Suleiman have been published, amongst others, in Modern Poetry in Translation and The Oxonian Review. Since 2012, Yousif has regularly led literary translation workshops with student-led PEN and Oxfam groups, resulting in a series of publications in The Oxonian Review and in poetry pamphlets co-edited by these groups, such as ‘Shall I Write About My House? Poetry Reflecting on the Syrian Refugee Crisis’ and ‘Flight: An Anthology of Poetry in Response to the Refugee Crisis’.

Yousif’s poem, ‘If this is my face, so be it’ (Modern Poetry in Translation, 2016), featured in Jenny Holzer’s public light projection artwork at Bispetorv (Aarhus, Denmark) in March 2017 as part of the European Capital of Culture festival, and was exhibited from  May 2017 in a new installation at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. In 2017, his poetry also featured in ‘The Absence of Paths’ as part of the Tunisian Pavilion exhibition at the 2017 Venice Biennale.

For Yousif’s most recent publications and poetry please see here and the recommended reading list below.


You can listen to Refugee Hosts’ writer-in-residence, Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, in conversation with Adriana X. Jacobs (University of Oxford) on the Staying Alive: Poetry and Crisis podcast series, here.

You can access our Creative Archive here, our Translation and Displacement series here , our Translation, Poetry and Displacement Essential Reading list here, and our Contextualising the Localisation of Aid Agenda series here, and you can  visit the recommended reading list below:

Appignanesi, L. (2019) The Dancer’s Tale, as told to Lisa Appignanesi 

Davies, D. (2017) Urban Warfare, Resilience and Resistance

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2019)  The Poetics of Undisclosed Care

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2017) Invisible (At) Night:  Space, Time and Photography in a Refugee Camp. 

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. and Qasmiyeh, Y. M. (2018) Refugee Neighbours and Hostipitality

Jordan, Z. (2018)  Why Host Refugees? 

Qasmiyeh, Y. M. (2018) Necessarily the Camp is the Border

Qasmiyeh, Y. M. (2018) The Camp is the Reject of the Reject Par Excellence

Qasmiyeh, Y. M. (2016) Writing the Camp

Qasmiyeh, Y. M. (2017) The Camp is Time

Qasmiyeh, Y. M. (2017) In arrival, feet flutter like dying birds

Qasmiyeh, Y. M. and Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2019) The Third Voice and Third Eye in Our Photo-Poetic Reflections 

Qasmiyeh, Y. M. and Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2018)  There will always be a vendor before and after the picture

Qasmiyeh, Y. M. and Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2018) A Daily Rhythm Inside Which Time Can Grow 

Stonebridge, L (2018) Undoing the Meaning of the World: Creation and Decreation in Contemporary Refugee Studies