The Refugee Tales project holds a distinctive place amongst 20th and 21st century responses to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The project comprises collections of tales published in textual editions alongside a politically embodied campaign to call an end to the practice of indefinite detention of asylum seekers in the United Kingdom. The tales that are told take the form of an established writer giving voice to those that are caught up in this inhuman process. Some of the oral narratives come from refugees, some from care-workers and supporters, and some from from those caught up in the institutional processes of bureaucracy. These tales are heard and rehearsed on an annual walk that appropriates the pilgrimage route to a new geography that contests political space and its confinements. The project as a whole captures the spirit and purpose of Chaucer’s work. While engagement with textual detail is intermittent, but probing where it appears, this body of work, as Chaucer’s did, gives voice to those whose voices are unheard. The Refugee Tales pick up on how Chaucer integrated a narrative about England into an international geography—though with a difference. While Chaucer sets his stories chiefly outside the shores of England for literary purposes, The Refugee Tales appropriate the space of England to create a borderless nation that is hospitable to persons from Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and in fact a whole international diaspora of nations whose people have become displaced. The Refugee Tales takes its inspiration from Chaucer not to produce a quaint exercise in medievalism or to update his work as a solely intellectual exercise. This project engages minds, body, creativity and political will. International in its remit, it frees the Father of English poetry to kick over the traces of borders that would separate nation from nation, children from parents, and human beings from each other. The Refugee Tales digs deep into the spirit of the medieval past to face up to a pressing and urgent global challenge.
Research Article| March 01 2019
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Helen Barr; Stories of the New Geography: The Refugee Tales. Journal of Medieval Worlds 1 March 2019; 1 (1): 79–106. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jmw.2019.100005
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