Immigration will be a central topic at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival (13th – 29th August). ‘Migrant Stories’ (11th – 29th August) is one thought-provoking theme at the festival and attendees will be able to discover stories and projects from various different countries.
Laura Medina Alemán
In this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, topics will be framed in an international context that focuses on the refugee crisis, the anti-immigrant political discourse related to Brexit and Donald Trump’s candidacy in the United States.
A highlight of the festival programme is an adaptation of Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro’s The View from Castle Rock. This tale is based on the experiences of Munro’s migrant ancestors, as they travelled from Scotland to Canada in search of a better future.
Since 1983, the Edinburgh International Book Festival has established itself as a cultural landmark event in the UK. The festival also serves as a channel of communication, as authors and audiences alike participate in open discussions about current issues, including those related to social injustice, the environment, immigration and democracy.
This year, the festival explores what role the human mind plays when imagining a better world. The section of the festival dedicated to ‘Migrant Stories’ will seek to understand and answer questions surrounding the implications of the current refugee crisis. The festival will try to address several sensitive topics, such as the influence of migrant communities in Scottish society, the experience of life in a refugee camp in Kenya, and the daily lives of immigrants during their journeys. It will also explore how they are received and become adapted once they reach their destination.
The festival will also feature representatives from different disciplines that will discuss diaspora: Ardizzone & Bessora, author and translator of the graphic novel Alpha, which tells the story of refugees moving from Africa to Europe; Ben Lawrence the author of City of Thorns, which tells a tale about the refugee camp of Dabaab in Kenya (Lawrence is also a researcher for the non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch); and Mostafah Salameh, a speaker, activist and the son of Palestinian refugees. Salemeh is the protagonist of his book Dreams of a Refugee. The story is narrated in first person, following Salameh on his adventure to conquer Mount Everest. Salameh’s tale echoes the message of tolerance spread by Islam.
Humanising immigration with culture
2016’s festival programme is built on discussions about the Mediterranean migration crisis that took place at last year’s event. Associate Director, Roland Gulliver, explains that this year’s edition wants “to get behind the newspaper headlines […] not only exploring the personal stories of refugees, aid workers and journalists, but also examining the deep cultural, social, economic and political roots” that have caused this situation.
He hopes to “to explore ‘Migrant Stories’ in their broadest sense – through genre (graphic novels, poetry, novels, personal accounts and reportage), but also globally and historically.”
Some political speeches, such as those devised during the Brexit campaign, have dehumanised immigrants by reducing them to a numerical matter. Cosmopolita Scotland raises the question of how culture can become a useful tool for integration. For Gulliver the answer here is clear: “Migrants have been stigmatised and dehumanised, and their stories reduced to soundbites and media headlines. Culture and Literature can re-humanise through personal accounts, discussion and understanding of other cultures and the reasons behind the worldwide movement of people.”
Immigration needs to be humanised, and culture plays a significant role in this process. The integration of immigrants into society transforms the cultural sector in the best possible way – it promotes positive values and shapes a more equitable, rounded community.