“What is refuge? How do we understand refuge and create it for ourselves and communities?” These were the questions posed to award-winning writers Billy-Ray Belcourt and David Chariandy at the second annual Smyth Dialogues.
The event, which took place Nov. 1, was hosted by the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) and moderated by Associate Dean of Global and Community Engagement, Professor Lily Cho.
A member of the Driftpile Cree Nation in northwest Alberta in Treaty 8 territory, Belcourt spoke about how queer literature served as refuge to him in his teens. In turn, he hopes his writing reflects the possibility of refuge and liberation to others.
“Loneliness, we can think of it as not an internal problem or individual problem but as a larger social problem,” Belcourt said. “The effect of having to live in a world that is built to enrich some people’s lives and subjugate others. I want my work, in a tiny way, to extend an invitation to share in the feeling of wanting another world.”
David Chariandy, the author of the novels Soucouyant and Brother, said that his work continues to be preoccupied with the concept of refuge, safety and belonging.
“We all really want safety, we all want human connection, and yet so often we are proffered by illusions about these things,” said Chariandy.
Citing the legacies of Black thought as the foundations for his understanding of refuge, Chariandy echoed Belcourt’s desire to want a better world, but acknowledged the limitations of refuge because of realities in which we and his characters live.
The dialogue included questions and comments from the audience, followed by a reception where Belcourt and Chariandy signed copies of their books.
The Smyth Dialogues is an annual signature public event series made possible through bequests from the late Wanita Smyth and Delmar Smyth and reflect the desire expressed by these two outstanding individuals to profile ideas and solutions that would promote peace, justice and human security, and prevent violence.