Bewketu Seyoum speaking to a class during his time at GMU.
Bewketu Seyoum speaking to a class during his time at GMU.

We live in an age where writers are more in danger than ever—many have been forced to flee their countries because of the nature of their work and their creative activities. At Mason, the Alan Cheuse International Writers Center partners with organizations to provide temporary refuge, a safe place to work, and an audience for these writers.

In 2021 and 2022, the center hosted Ethiopian poet, novelist, essayist, and humorist Bewketu Seyoum through a partnership with the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) and City of Asylum—Pittsburgh. Honored as Ethiopian Best Novelist of the Year in 2008 and Best Young Author in 2009, he is widely regarded as one of the leading poets of his generation. Through the Cheuse Center’s Writers-at-Risk program, we were able to help Bewketu extend his stay in the United States. 

Depending on the length of their visit, writers who join the Cheuse Center through this program receive space to work on their projects and also participate in the D.C. metro and Mason campus literary communities. They also engage in public events and help create connections between different cultures. This program is the Center’s response towards supporting a world where freedom of expression is a treasured value.   

Our donors make this work possible and their gifts help provide housing, financial assistance, and community building for these writers. A one-year residency for a writer-at-risk requires $60,000 in funding. You can help by making a gift online. 

If you would like information on other methods of giving, or to discuss how you can help support this important work, please contact our development liaison, Alecia Bryan, at abryan4@gmu.edu or (703) 993-3503.   

Though we host many writers who are in permanent exile from their homes, like Kurdish novelist Bachtyar Ali, in this section we feature four writers who came to visit us over the past 18 months that work under perilous conditions or are not able to return home: 


Maya abu Al Hayyat, 2022

Maya Abu Al-Hayyat at Gillespie Gallery in Fairfax, on the campus of GMU. 

Behind her is the work of Syrian artist Abdulrahman Naanseh


Maya Abu Al-Hayyat is the director of the Palestine Writing Workshop, an institution that seeks to encourage reading in Palestinian communities through creative writing projects and storytelling with children and teachers. She has published four collections of poems, four novels, and numerous children’s stories, including The Blue Pool of Questions. She contributed to and wrote a foreword for A Bird Is Not a Stone: An Anthology of Contemporary Palestinian Poetry, and she is also an editor of The Book of Ramallah. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Cordite Poetry Review, The Guardian, and Literary Hub. Abu Al-Hayyat lives in Jerusalem and works in Ramallah. Past events were at Gillespie Gallery: https://cheusecenter.gmu.edu/events/13940 and Bloombars in Columbia Heights: https://wmst.gmu.edu/events/13937


Anna Starobinets, 2023

Anna Starobinets, Arts Club, Washington, September 22, 2023


Anna Starobinets is an acclaimed, award-winning Russian novelist, screenwriter, and journalist. Best known as a writer of dystopian and metaphysical novels and short stories, she is also a very successful children’s author whose translations are now available in English. Her memoir, 'Look at Him,' about the loss of her child, and the added grief of living in a punitive health care system led to policy changes in Moscow's hospitals. You can read her powerful statement on silence, here. She is self-exiled from Russia. 


Boris Khersonsky & Lyudmyla Khersonska

In the Hour of War, at Mason Exhibitions, Arlington, November 8, 2023. 

Seated left to right: Lyudmyla Khersonska, Boris Khersonsky,

Ilya Kaminsky, Carolyn Forché, moderated by Katherine E. Young


The Ukrainian writers Boris Khersonsky and Lyudmyla Khersonska fled their home in Odesa, Ukraine, at the beginning of the war in Ukraine. As 2024 begins, almost two years later, they cannot return. 

Boris Khersonsky was born in Chernivtsi in 1950. He studied medicine in Ivano-Frankivsk and Odessa. He initially worked as a neurologist, before becoming a psychologist and psychiatrist at the Odessa regional psychiatric hospital. In 1996 Khersonsky took on an appointment at the department of psychology at Odessa National University, before becoming chair of the department of clinical psychology in 1999. In the Soviet times, Khersonsky was part of the Samizdat movement, which disseminated alternative, nonconformist literature through unofficial channels. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Khersonsky came out with seventeen collections of poetry and essays in Russian, and most recently, in Ukrainian. Widely regarded as one of Ukraine’s most prominent Russian-language poets, Khersonsky was the poet laureate of the Kyiv Laurels Poetry Festival (2008) and the recipient of the Brodsky Stipend (2008), the Jury Special Prize at the Literaris Festival for East European Literature (2010), and the Russian Prize (2011).

Lyudmyla Khersonska is a poet and translator from Odesa, Ukraine. She is the author of four poetry collections in Russian. In 2022 her joint volume with the poet Boris Khersonsky, her husband, came out in English translation from Lost Horse Press, titled The Country where Everyone’s Name is Fear. Khersonska was recently included in the list, “33 International Women Writers Who are Bold for Change” by Words without Borders. Her latest book is Today is A Different War (Arrowsmith Press).

Their past program details appear here