Refugee Tales

A Difficult Passage to Navigate: From Asylum Story to Refugee Tale




dialogic narration, embodied act of narration, refugee experience, asylum narrative


This article draws on the results of a life writing initiative, ARENA (Archive of Refugee Encounter Narratives), developed at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. It involves students of English collaborating with refugees over periods of three months to write down the latter’s stories. Like other storytelling ventures spawned by the perceived European refugee crisis of 2015, ARENA aims to enable a better understanding of the situation of refugees in Europe than the dominant asylum discourse allows. To this end, students arrange regular encounters with participating refugees and encourage them to tell whatever they consider to be their stories. The texts the students craft from these exchanges capture not only the refugees’ stories but also their own experience of hearing them. I will examine the embodied act of narration thus recorded in the ARENA corpus and contest critical claims that, too indebted to the rigid veracity standards defining official refugee testimonials, refugee life writing is unable to augment new ways of thinking about refugee experience and forced migration at large. My argument is that such criticism does not apply where the dialogic nature of live telling is consciously experienced and given due expression in the life writing it eventually becomes.

Author Biography

Helga Ramsey-Kurz, University of Innsbruck

Helga Ramsey-Kurz is associate professor of English literatures at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, and teaches in her fields of specialization, which are refugee and migrant writing, as well as socio-economic inequality in postcolonial literatures. Her publications include the essay collections Uncommon Wealths in Postcolonial Fiction (edited with Melissa Kennedy, 2018), On the Move: The Journey of Refugees in New Literatures in English (edited with Geetha Ganapathy-Doré, 2013), Projections of Paradise: Ideal Elsewheres in Postcolonial Migrant Literature (edited with Geetha Ganapathy-Doré, 2011). In 2017 she initiated the teaching-cum-research project ARENA.





Refugee Tales