A history of the World Literature Residency

The Dean of Columbian College of Arts and Sciences at GW, then William Frawley, started the World Literature Residency in 2004, working with the Creative Writing program in the English Department. The program has continued under the leadership of Interim Dean Diana Lipscomb.

Our first World Literature Residency Fellow was Githa Hariharan, a novelist from India.

The second WLR Fellow was Witi Ihimaera, from New Zealand, who was with us for a month.

Mr. Ihimaera is a novelist whose book for young adults, Whale Rider, had been made into a movie successful worldwide. A former diplomat and currently a professor of Creative Writing at the University of Auckland, Mr. Ihimaera was an acquaintance of a fellow countryman, Gil Harris, who teaches Shakespeare on our own GW faculty.

Mr. Ihimaera’s residency was a period of great excitement and interest; a Maori, he spoke about some of the problems facing indigenous peoples, especially indigenous artists, to a large audience; he showed his film not once but twice to large audiences, who asked him many questions; and he gave a very well attended reading from his fiction. He spoke around town, appearing at Georgetown University, the Field School, and elsewhere. He also visited several GW classes. The Embassy hosted a reception for about 100 people, which was attended by both the Ambassador and President Trachtenberg of GW.

Diana Bellessi of Argentina, a poet, became our third WLR Fellow, thanks to the active involvement of Sergio Waisman, himself from Argentina, who teaches in GW’s Department of Romance, Germanic, and Slavic Languages and Literatures. A specialist in translation, he was able to help us with Ms. Bellessi’s public addresses and English class appearances, and was able to insure that she not only felt at home in Washington but also had plenty of students to meet with.

A wise, warm-hearted woman of great courage and wide experience, Ms. Bellessi touched everyone who met her. Ms. Bellessi visited half a dozen Spanish literature classes, and two English Department classes dealing with postcolonial literature. Also, CNN En Español interviewed her during her visit.

Nokuthula Mazibuko, a fiction and non-fiction writer, and documentary filmmaker, came from South Africa to be our fourth WLR Fellow.

At GW, Ms. Mazibuko gave a public talk one evening; another evening, she screened a documentary movie about the 1976 student uprisings in Soweto; and on a third evening, she gave a public reading from one of her books. She also visited several classes, both in literature and in creative writing. She participated in a conference at Georgetown University, and was a guest of the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where she stayed for two nights, reading, showing her film, and meeting with faculty and students.

Thanks to the active involvement of the South African Embassy, Ms. Mazibuko also spoke at the Library of Congress, at the Smithsonian’s Museum of African Art, and at the National Geographic Society. She visited students, faculty, and parents affiliated with GapBuster Learning Center, a community educational opportunity organization. Her vivid personality and generous candor made her many good friends during her month-long stay.

[composed by David McAleavey]

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