The Xenophiles: Navigating Where We Belong

Programme editor

Note: due to circumstances this program will unfortunately not be livestreamed!

‘Where are you from?’ we are often asked. But is this question as innocent as it sounds? Does it depend on who’s asking, and when and where? Join us as we, four migrant writers, navigate the topic of home and belonging with provocative readings and a lively, entertaining conversation with the audience.

With questions of migration central to the coming election, we invite the audience to unpack some of their baggage. Hoping to arrive at a more profound understanding of themselves, what they call home and where they belong in this strange place.

Let’s explore what questions we’d rather be asked. Like, what brings you here? Where are you headed? Bent u hier bekend? Can you please show me the way?

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 to 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.

Julie Phillips is an American biographer, journalist, and critic who speaks Dutch with a Frisian accent. The product of four generations of holiday romances and a blind date, she moved often as a child and became a person from Anywhere, fascinated with everyone who comes from Somewhere. She moved to the Netherlands for love, health insurance, and the chance to ride a bicycle without injury. She is the author of books about motherhood, gender, and science fiction; writes for Trouw and 4Columns; and has published in The New Yorker, Granta, and Slate. She puts the XX in Xenophile, lives her life like a chameleon on a paisley shirt, and celebrates the alternative in all its forms


Amal ChatterjeeWriter | Photo: Susan Ridder
Julie PhillipsWriter | Photo: Chris van Houts