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From left to right: Aya Abdullah, JJ Bola, and Cate Blanchett. Photo credit: UNHCR.

Congolese novelist JJ Bola, author of No Place to Call Home (2017), was hosted in a conversation by Oscar winning actress Cate Blanchett. The event, which also featured Webster University student, Aya Abdullah, is an initiative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), meant to draw attention to the plight of refugees worldwide. It took place at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Themed “Storytelling and the Power of One,” UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Cate Blanchett introduced the conversation as exploring “how art and storytelling and creative endeavours, creative expressions, help us to re-frame the refugee experience,” especially with “a lot of labels being bandied around.”

JJ Bola’s debut novel, No Place to Call Home, was longlisted for The Guardian‘s 2017 reader-voted Not The Booker Prize, and later made news when it sold out at last year’s Writivism Festival. Published in the UK by OWN IT! and forthcoming in the US by Arcade/Skyhorse Publishing in March 2018, the novel—focused on a boy whose family flees violence in the Congo and tries to adapt to Britain—has been described by Thomas Williams as “both unflinching and kind in its portrayal of the societal constructs that affect our lives, the choices we make, and the choices made for us, as a result of their influence.”

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, an academic, and Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review ("Mulumba," 2016), Transition ("A Tenderer Blessing," 2015), and in an anthology of the Gerald Kraak Award ("You Sing of a Longing," 2017), for which he was shortlisted. His work has further been shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship in 2016 and a Pushcart Prize in 2015. His conversations appear in Africa in Dialogue, Bakwa, SPRINNG, and Dwartonline. He is the curator of the Art Naija Series, a sequence of themed e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness. The first, Enter Naija: The Book of Places (October 2016), focuses on Nigerian cities. The second, Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (June 2017), focuses on professions in Nigeria. He studied history and literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is currently completing a postgraduate programme in African Studies, and teaches English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. When bored, he just Googles Rihanna.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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