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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 a writer, literary journalist, former academic, and Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. A judge for the 2019 Gerald Kraak Award, he is an editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective which has published two volumes: WE ARE FLOWERS and THE INWARD GAZE. He is the curator of ART NAIJA SERIES, a sequence of themed e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness: ENTER NAIJA: THE BOOK OF PLACES (October, 2016) focuses on cities in Nigeria; WORK NAIJA: THE BOOK OF VOCATIONS (June, 2017) focuses on professions in Nigeria. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition, and has been shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship and the Gerald Kraak Award, both in 2016, and a Pushcart Prize in 2015. He attended the 2018 Miles Morland Foundation Creative Writing Workshop. He has completed a collection of short stories, YOU SING OF A LONGING, and is working on a novel. He is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He combined history and literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and taught English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. When bored, the boy just Googles Rihanna. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts editing and writing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze.

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