Fictions of Refuge
In 1951, the UNHCR ratified the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a landmark document that establishes the importance of narrative as a means of making visible the figure of the refugee. This course explores how literature offers a means of understanding the concept of refuge and the subject of the refugee. Contemporary Canadian writing offers a particularly rich resource for this exploration: not only does it boast a thriving immigrant literary tradition, but also some of the most exciting recent publications exemplify “fictions of refuge.” Through close readings of select fictions of refuge, including short stories, poems, plays, and novels, which we will put into dialogue with excerpts from essays on critical refugee studies, this course will consider conventions of refugee narratives including redemption, success and gratitude; the ways that writers challenge these conventions through emphasis on themes of loss, absence, and ingratitude; the literary spaces that such fictions inhabit; the major literary tropes that bring into focus the seemingly “minor” figure of the refugee; and the ways that the refugee might unsettle settler colonial interests. The fictions of refuge we will look at include works by Dionne Brand, Rawi Hage, Thomas King, Mouawad Wajdi, Alice Munro, Souvankha Thammavongsa, Madeleine Thien, and Kim Thúy.