Literary safe-house

One of the most intriguing venues of Mexico City’s literary scene is La Casa de Refugio (the House of Refuge), a refurbished mansion that was donated by the left-leaning city government to accommodate refugee writers from around the world.

A project of the International Parliament of Writers, the first such shelter was established in Strasbourg, France, in 1993. The campaign to create refuge houses has been spearheaded by exiled Nigerian Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka and has provided sanctuaries for Cuban, Chinese, Iraqi, Iranian and Balkan writers.

The Mexico City House of Refuge was inaugurated in 1998 by novelist Salman Rushdie on a hush-hush trip through Mexico.

Kosovar writer Xheudat Bajraj and Serbian Vladimir Arsenijevic have been the first two exiled writers to take up residence in the big house on Citlaltapetl.

Mexico City has always been a Mecca for refugee writers, particularly Latin Americans, points out _La Casa de Refugio_ director Philippe Olle. Gabriel Garcia Marquez has long maintained a home here as has his fellow Colombian Alvaro Mutis.

Now Olle is opening the doors of _La Casa de Refugio_ to the world with nightly book presentations and lectures on the works of foreign writers on Mexico – late American beatniks Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, one-time denizens of this city, have been featured.

But though the scene here is bustling, literary life does not have much allure outside Mexico City’s cultural corridors. The country comes 107th out of a list of 108 book-reading countries.

New Internationalist issue 337 magazine cover This article is from the August 2001 issue of New Internationalist.
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