If Freedom Writes No Happier Alphabet

This event has now finished.
  • Date and time: Thursday 21 March 2024, 1pm to 6pm
  • Location: Bowland Auditorium, BS/005, Berrick Saul Building, Campus West, University of York (Map)
  • Admission: Free admission

Event details

A mini-symposium hosted by the Writer in Residence and Writers at York

What might 'freedom' and a 'happier alphabet' mean? Guyanese poet Martin Carter's words invite us, here, at the University of York, to bring our lived experience and academic knowledge - our imagination and our heart - to this question. Never has such a question been more urgent. Please join us for as much or as little time as you can!

From literary experiment to journalism, philology to pinkwashing, time's ruinous triumphs to the body as archive of tenderness: you will hear from, and have a chance to speak with, leading thinkers and makers. There will be readings, reflections, and Q&A time.

This will be a plurilingual occasion, with English as the working language. We are especially excited to offer 'bring and share' slots. It would be wonderful if you could bring and share writings by others, or yourself, which relate to the theme, 'If Freedom Writes No Happier Alphabet'. Brief texts in all languages are welcome. Please be prepared to explain or gloss them, and be reasonably mindful of sharing the space. It is ok to drop in, return, etc.  You are invited! 

Click here for Zoom link 

Meeting ID: 956 3428 1183
Passcode: 183558

Speakers: Anthony Vahni Capildeo, Adriana X. Jacobs, Elias Jahshan, Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, Olga Tabachnikova, Lydia Wilson.


Yousif M. Qasmiyeh is a poet, scholar, and translator whose work includes two poetry collections. Time, the body, and ruination inform his poetry and prose. Writing the Camp (Broken Sleep, 2021) was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize, a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and Highly Commended in the Forward Prizes. Born and educated in Baddawi refugee camp (Lebanon), Yousif is Joint Lead of the Baddawi Camp Lab, Imagining Futures Project. Eating the Archive (Broken Sleep, 2023) examines even the harshest aspects of the camp with tenderness, pondering existential questions. His doctoral research at the University of Oxford examines the archive, time, and containment in refugee literature in Arabic and English. Yousif is Writer in Residence at Refugee Hosts, and Creative Encounters Editor, Migration and Society. You can find his poetry, literary criticism, and scholarly reflections in journals and magazines including Cambridge Literary ReviewCritical QuarterlyGeoHumanities, Journal of Refugee StudiesModern Poetry in TranslationNew England ReviewPN ReviewPoetry London, and Stand.

Elias Jahshan (he/him) is a Palestinian-Lebanese journalist and writer. He is the editor of groundbreaking This Arab is Queer: An Anthology by LGBTQ+ Arab Writers (Saqi Books; 2022), which was a finalist in the 2023 Lambda Literary Awards and shortlisted for the 2023 Bread & Roses Award. He is a former editor of Star Observer, Australia’s longest-running LGBTQ+ media outlet, and his short memoir ‘Coming Out Palestinian’ was anthologised in Arab Australian Other (Picador, 2019). He has also written freelance for outlets including The Guardian, Gay Times, Raseef22, Shado Mag, and My Kali. Born and raised in Sydney, he now lives in London.

Adriana X. Jacobs is a scholar, translator, and poet, with interests in comparative, transnational, multilingual, and diasporic poetics, extending to digital cultures. Her current projects include a study on contemporary poetry of crisis. She is Associate Professor and Cowley Lecturer in Modern Hebrew Literature at the University of Oxford and a Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Adriana’s books include Strange Cocktail: Translation and the Making of Modern Hebrew Poetry (2018, University of Michigan Press), (2019 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award Finalist). Her articles on poetry and translation, and her translations of Hebrew poetry, have been published widely. Adriana received the 2022 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets for her translation of Vaan Nguyen’s The Truffle Eye (Zephyr Press, 2021). With Claire Williams, she is the co-editor of After Clarice: Reading Lispector’s Legacy in the Twenty-First Century (Oxford: Legenda, 2022).

In person:

Lydia Wilson is Culture Editor at New Lines magazine, a Visiting Fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Middle Eastern Studies, a Research Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict, Chair of the Permanent Monitoring Panel for Terrorism and Conflict at the World Federation of Scientists, and the Volkan Scholar at the International Dialogue Initiative. Lydia’s background is in Natural Sciences, the History and Philosophy of Science, and medieval Arabic philosophy. Her practice as a journalist is complemented by expertise in translation studies, and a passion for experimental writing. Lydia was a co-founder of the Cambridge Literary Review, and presented the 3-part BBC television series ‘A Secret History of Writing’.

Olga Tabachnikova is an award-winning poet and poetry translator, with two books of poetry (in Russian): One can burn paper with the power of angst… (Folio, 2002) and Circumstances of time (Helicon-Plus, 2012). She is a Reader in Russian and the founding Director of the Vladimir Vysotsky Centre for Slavonic Studies at the University of Central Lancashire. She has published widely on Russian cultural and literary history, with a special focus on Russian cultural continuity and history of ideas.

Anthony Vahni Capildeo FRSL  is Writer in Residence and Professor at the University of York. Their Trinidadian Scottish affiliations inform their work on place, memory, plurilingualism, silence, and masquerade. Anthony's ninth book of poetry, Polkadot Wounds, will be published by Carcanet in July 2024.


Juliana Mensah