A symposium entitled “Writing and Reconciliation: Identity, Displacement, and Narrative in Sri Lanka” will bring together Sri Lankan and Virginia Tech writers, scholars, and students.

Discussion will focus on how individuals and communities come to understand the trauma and identity conflicts that arise when people are displaced from their homes due to natural disaster, war, or other historical impacts. This international conference will take place Nov. 5-7 at The Inn at Virginia Tech.

Keynote readings, roundtable discussions, and a poetry exchange with invited scholars highlight the three-day collaborative meeting, which is free and open to the public.    

The conference will convene on Monday, Nov. 5, at 4 p.m. with a performance by an award-winning Kandyan drummer and dancer followed by a keynote address by Romesh Gunesekera, author of “Reef,” which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and “Monkfish Moon,” a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

On Tuesday, Nov. 6, from 9-11 a.m, a roundtable discussion on “Media, art, and politics” will be followed by a noon session that features Jean Arasanayagam, award-winning author of “A Nice Burgher Girl” and Thiyagarajah (Arasa) Arasanayagam, political activist and playwright.

The afternoon roundtable begins at 1:30 p.m. and focuses on “Research, border politics, and dissemination,” and is followed with a presentation by Ru Freeman, author of “The Disobedient Girl.” 

A poetry exchange by Jean Arasanayagam, Minoli Salgado, Seni Seneviratne, and Virginia Tech’s Jeff Mann, Fred D’Aguiar, and Erika Meitner is the Wednesday morning highlight.

Seventeen Virginia Tech students visited Sri Lanka over the summer as part of a nomadic study abroad experience, the centerpiece of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences’ new Center for 21st Century Studies. A transdisciplinary program, students from across the university participated in this new minor with 13 distinct majors represented, ranging from French, biological sciences, and sociology to public and urban affairs, English, and engineering. On this trip, participants had the opportunity to visit the Arasanayagams in their Sri Lankan home.

Shelby Ward of Bluefield, Va, a senior majoring in English, worked on a creative writing project as part of her nomadic studies experience. “I wrote poetry as a way to look at perspectives and views that our language gives us to talk about the world around us and what happens to that when you’re displaced from the world and language you know,” said Ward. “So it was particularly important and extremely inspirational for me to be in Sri Lanka … and have the opportunity to speak to a poet like Jean Arasayagam.” 

Ward, who says she is excited to reconnect with Arasayagam at the symposium, added that “we talked about what inspired us in our poetry, what grabbed us, and what creative processes we went through. She was so down to earth. But I never forgot who I was talking with, and how lucky I was to be having this talk with her.”

Gina Reistrup of Springfield, Va., a sophomore majoring in international studies, will be attending the symposium “to hear what other people have to say about Sri Lanka, to see how that may be similar or different to my own experience, and to spend more time with the Arasayagams. Reistrup anticipates hearing various views on the civil war and “how to make Sri Lanka friendly to Tamils and Sinhalese.”

Katy Powell, director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program, is one of the coordinators of this symposium. She works with undergraduates and graduate students to study issues of displacement, employing ethnographic and oral history research. Powell started out in this field by studying families who were displaced by the creation of Shenandoah National Park. In Sri Lanka, ethnic conflict has forced people to flee their homes.

D'Aguiar, Department of English, and Bob Siegle, director of the Center for 21st Century Studies, also serve as coordinators of the symposium.

Sponsors include the Office of the Provost; College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and the Dean’s Advisory Committee on International Initiatives; Incentive Grant from the Inn at Virginia Tech; Office of Outreach and International Affairs; MFA Program/Department of English; Women’s and Gender Studies/Department of Sociology; Center for 21st Century Studies; Institute for Society, Culture Environment; Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention; Diggs Teaching Scholarship Association, Department of Religion and Culture; Department of Theatre and Cinema; Office of International Research, Education, and Development; and the Graduate School.



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