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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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Otosirieze is deputy editor of Brittle Paper. He is a judge for the 2018/19 Gerald Kraak Prize and the 2019 Miles Morland Writing Scholarships. He is an editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective, which has published volumes including We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018). He is the curator of the Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies of writing and visual art focusing on different aspects of Nigerianness, including Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016), which explores cities, and Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), which explores professions. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition. He has completed a collection of short stories, You Sing of a Longing, is working on a novel, and is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He combined English and History at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is completing a postgraduate degree in African Studies, and taught English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts writing and editing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze. When bored, he Googles Rihanna.

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