Refugee Tales

The Refugee’s Tale: The Story of the Story


  • Patience Agbabi



Refugee Tales, collaboration, fiction, poetry


This essay explores the collaborative process of creating the poem ‘The Refugee’s Tale’, which was initially read at a live event and subsequently published in the first Refugee Tales anthology (Comma Press, 2016). It presents the metatextual process of interviewing the refugee to obtain their story, ‘The Refugee’s Tale’ itself, and the multifaceted aspects of the creative composition of the long poem. It examines a variety of literary and ethical challenges from the perspective of a participating writer: the imperative to do justice to the politics of the Refugee Tales movement as a whole and the individual tale in particular whilst concurrently attending to the aesthetics in creating a literary work; the intersections and differences between creating life writing and fiction; the decision to utilize the mnemonic properties of a particular European poetic form, the heroic crown, to tell the tale of a North African woman; the avoidance of pornography of pain; and, fundamentally, questions of voice – generating it, giving it, lending it, and silencing it. The author concludes that the merits of this collaborative process, the pairing of refugees with literary writers to craft and recite their life story, is the most effective way to capture the public imagination and enable those silenced voices to be heard.

Author Biography

Patience Agbabi

Patience Agbabi is a freelance poet and novelist who has been a Fellow in Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes University since 2009 and is currently Associate Member of the English Faculty at the University of Oxford. Her writing often focuses on representations of the underprivileged in literature, including women and girls’ issues, Black culture, sexuality, and neurodiversity. She is the author of four poetry collections, including the twenty-first-century retelling of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Telling Tales (Canongate, 2014). She is also the author of The Leap Cycle, a middle-grade time-travel tetralogy. The fourth book, The Past Master, is due in February 2024.





Refugee Tales