From Sarajevo to Canada: Edmonton welcomes 2011s writer-in-exile

Edmonton’s new Writer-In-Exile of 2011 was celebrated at Audreys Books, on Sunday afternoon, March 6th. His first poetry book written in English, Sunrise in the Eyes of the Snowman, was on showcase.

Once the owner of a book store at home in Sarajevo — which was destroyed, along with his home, upon the 1992 Serbian siege — Goran Simi now resides in Canada. With the help of Susan Sontag and PEN Canada, Simi arrived in Toronto in 1996, where he served as a senior fellow at Massey College. Among his literary ventures, Simi was a Writer-in-Exile at the Banff Centre for the Arts in 2000 and Writer-in-Residence at the University of Guelph in 2006. But prior to these experiences, in 1993, Simi co-founded PEN Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

When asked in a CBC Radio interview why he decided to become a writer, Simi answered that poetry was the language he felt most comfortable expressing himself with. And in making a career out of his writing, Simi said: “Sometimes after my twenties my father tried to convince me to get some steady job and to write poetry in my spare time. But it was too late. I was already infected. And I still can’t get rid of that infection. Since then I was infected by other forms like drama, short stores, librettos, as well. No cure for me.”

Having received much recognition in prominent journals in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia, Simi has earned himself the title of “one of the most prominent writers of the former Yugoslavia.” Simi — “poet, short story writer, essayist” — has authored many books, produced plays and radio plays, and edited several literary magazines.

According to the Edmonton Public Library, among his various awards, Simi is the recipient of both the Helman-Hammet Award/PEN USA Freedom to Write Award (1994) and the People’s Award Canada (2006).

Todd Babiak, of Edmonton Journal — who describes Simi as a persecuted writer and war survivor — cites Simi’s other artistic accomplishments: “his opera librettos -a long collaboration with Scottish composer Nigel Osborne -have been performed all over Europe. His puppet theatre shows are now classics in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A fulllength documentary has been made about him, When You Die As A Cat.”

According to LitFest, Edmonton’s Nonfictional Festival, past Writers-In-Exile include: “Kurdish poet and essayist Jalal Barzanji, Brazilian poet and author Rita Espeschit and Chinese journalist and nonfiction author Sheng Xue.” But this year is Simi’s year.

The excitement regarding Simi’s new position, and thus the anticipation for his upcoming work in 2011, already has proud tweeters tweeting. @Paulatics says: “’War poet’ finds freedom to speak out (@babiak column makes me proud to be from #yeg )” and @PENCanada says: “War poet finds freedom to speak out — profile of PEN Canada’s Edmonton writer-in-exile by Todd Babiak”

Many happy literary wishes for Simi’s year to come – may his pen always be his mightiest sword in telling the tales of his life lived across borders.