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The Xenophiles: Exploring Utopias

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The Xenophiles
With election results and predictions steering us back towards a darker age, are there brighter futures to be pursued and imagined? Join us – a quartet of migrant writers – as we delve into the very essence of Utopia. Here, we intertwine evocative readings with a lively, engaging dialogue with our audience. We invite you to ask yourself: What does Utopia look like for me?

In a world of change, of hopes and fears, where do we go? The Xenophiles explore alternative visions: the future as it could be, the past as it might have been, the present as it was imagined.

Share a reading or a question
We welcome your stories, visions, and misgivings. If you’d like to join in, share a reading or propose a thought-provoking question, please get in touch – that’ll allow us to make space for various ideas and perspectives. Please send your contribution, in English and ideally limited to a page, to rokhaya.seck@debalie.nl by January 19.

About the Xenophiles

Raised on different continents, The Xenophiles believe in the power of all that is peculiar, foreign, strange, and original. Why fight xenophobia, when you can celebrate xenophilia? As writers, we thrive on the complexity of human relationships; as Xenophiles we find joy in the risks and rewards of engaging with each other on challenging topics.

We are Vamba, the Liberian-Kuwaiti scholar from Groningen; Julie, the American who speaks Dutch with a Frisian accent; Amal, the Indian Sri-Lankan who arrived from Glasgow; and Richard, the Dutchman who still swears like a South African on his bike.

About the speakers

Amal Chatterjee briefly served the worst cappuccinos in Scotland. Sri Lankan Tamil, Indian Bengali, from Calcutta, Glasgow, Amsterdam, Oxford, with toes in Paris and Catalunya. So of several places at once, he insists. Speaker of English, Bengali, now Dutch, mangler of others. Novelist, playwright, fiction tutor (so of making things up) at Oxford University, he’s also written history and is now meddling in scriptwriting and … more history. He’s mentored writers from Peru to Poland, Uganda to the US, Nepal to the Netherlands. (Possibly overly) concerned about everywhere, he delights in food, books, films, ideas – and in being one of the Xenophiles, knowing there is so much more to know about everyone, about the world.

Vamba Sherif was born in Liberia, although many Liberians think he’s a foreigner because of his strange accent. He’s lived in Kuwait and Syria, and has families in Sierra Leone and Guinea. He speaks many languages, and his Arabic was once as good as the poets of the Pre-Islamic era, until it was tainted by Dutch and the habit of doing normal. He dabbles in acting, and his books have been published in many languages. He insists without apology that he belongs to the world, to all the books and films he’s ever read and seen. He celebrates Xenophilia and has made it a lifelong goal to convert the world to this very appealing idea.

Richard de Nooy managed to postpone his writing career by studying journalism in South Africa and psychology in the Netherlands, before going on to procrastinate as a bouncer, cartoonist, editor, copywriter, and father. When he finally published his debut at the age of 40, it won the University of Johannesburg Prize for Best First Book. He went on to write his next three novels in Dutch and English. Although Richard has seen little of the world, this did not stop him writing almost 100 travel blogs about destinations unvisited. He spends most of his life inside his head, exploring a landscape where all things strange, new and unexpected are celebrated, which is the lifeblood of Xenophilia.

Jing-Jing Lee was born in the working class west of Singapore, where there are no glitzy skyscrapers, just smog-producing factories. As an adolescent, she toyed with the idea of growing up to be a pragmatic adult, to the extent that she minored in marketing at a business university. She held out until she was twenty, before quitting her studies halfway and running off to work on her writing in Oxford. Since then, she has spent time in Oxford, Bremen, Hamburg, and Amsterdam. Having lived in different places and figured out that the best things about those places are endemic (the embarrassment of riches that is the food-scene in Singapore, the freedom she feels in Holland, and the random little parks in England), Jing is worried that she will never find a place where she will comfortably call home, much less Utopia. 

Speakers

Jing-Jing LeeWriter
Amal ChatterjeeWriter | Photo: Susan Ridder
Julie PhillipsWriter