Skip to content

A Voice for Freedom


Sonali Samarasinghe, Ithaca City of Asylum’s fifth writer in residence, read from her new poetry chapbook, The Land My Father Gave Me, and her upcoming nonfiction book on Sri Lankan media and politics on April 9th at 5:30 pm in the Handwerker Gallery at Ithaca College. The Land My Father Gave Me, published by Ithaca press Vista Periodista, is Samarasinghe’s first book published in the U.S. and it contains an introduction by Ithaca College Professor of Writing Katharyn Howd Machan.

The reading marks the end of Samarasinghe’s two year term as the Ithaca City of Asylum writer-in-residence and Visiting Scholar in Residence for the Ithaca College Honors Program in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

“In the short time Sonali has been with us in Ithaca, she has shown us what true courage looks like,” said Bridget Meeds, board chair for Ithaca City of Asylum. “We are thrilled to join in celebrating her work.”

Sonali Samarasinghe is an award-winning journalist and human rights activist. A native of Sri Lanka, Samarasinghe practiced law there for twenty years and worked as a journalist focusing on human rights, including government corruption and women’s issues. She was forced to flee Sri Lanka in 2009 after her husband was assassinated and her family threatened.

ICOA is part of a worldwide network of cities of asylum and is a project of the Center for Transformative Action. It supports writers whose works are suppressed, whose lives are threatened, whose cultures are vanishing, and whose languages are endangered.

Samarasinghe to Teach on Challenges to Justice


Sonali Samarasinghe, Ithaca City of Asylum visiting writer and scholar in the Ithaca College Honors program, will teach a one-credit course connected to the upcoming Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (FLEFF).

Justice: What’s the right thing to do?

From price gouging to disaster capitalism, from corruption and waste to repression and genocide, individuals and governments every day are guilty of exploitation and inhumanity. Each day we are faced with difficult decisions that challenge our moral compass. In this course we will analyze the nature of justice and what it takes to do the right thing. Students will be presented with real-life situations and asked to make their own decisions. We will discuss how different decisions may result in surprising outcomes, and why harmonious decisions based on morality could spark disharmony and conflict, while violent decisions based on self-interest may allow for peaceful and just outcomes. As part of the course, students will attend FLEFF screenings.

Sonali Samarasinghe
Justice: What’s the right thing to do? GCOM 10500-01 CRN 43886
Wednesday 3:00-4:50 p.m.
March 17-May 12, Williams 222

Samarasinghe Judges the Dissonance Project


Sonali Samarasinghe, ICOA’s writer-in-residence, served as one of the jurors for “The Dissonance Project,” a writing contest for high school students. The contest was sponsored by Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (FLEFF) at Ithaca College. In an interview about her work as a juror for “The Dissonance Project,” Samarasinghe stated that she is “delighted to have the opportunity to be a juror in one of FLEFF’s many intellectually stimulating projects. In keeping with the broad theme of dissonance and as part of the FLEFF umbrella, I am also teaching a mini course titled “Justice: What’s The Right Thing To Do?” The full interview is available here.

FLEFF embraces and interrogates sustainability across all of its forms: economic, social, ecological, political, cultural, technological, and aesthetic. They recently sponsored their seventeenth annual Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival, from March 31through April 6, 2014. The 2014 Festival Theme was DISSONANCE. “Dissonance in all its forms is to be celebrated,” said Samarasinghe, “because through conflict comes new beginnings, fresh ideas, evolved thinking and change. Disorder will eventually beget order and without friction the bow cannot make sweet harmony. It is [the] evil that forces you towards the good, death that brings life, and the ugly that draws you to the beautiful.”

New Publications from ICOA Board Members


A play, “Rat-tat-tat,” by David Guaspari, is featured in The Best Ten-Minute Plays 2013, edited by Lawrence Harbison, published by Smith and Kraus.  It’s just come out.

Christopher Gonzales won the 2014 S. I. Newhouse School Prize for Creative Nonfiction for his piece, “Mother, Father, Memory, Me.” The story appears in Stone Canoe 8, released in January.

Ithaca City of Asylum at the Ithaca Alternative Gift Fair



Ithaca City of Asylum joined fifty other local non-profit organizations at the Ithaca Alternative Gift Fair on December 7, 2013,  at the First Presbyterian Church at Dewitt Park. During the fair, participants had the chance to donate a gift to a charity in honor of a loved one—the perfect gift for the person on your list who already had all the material goods he or she might want. When you made a donation to ICOA, you received a lovely Acorn Design holiday card with an insert explaining your gift to the recipient.

ICOA's table at the 2013 Alternative Gift Fair

ICOA’s table at the 2013 Alternative Gift Fair

Journalist, Educator Challenges Corruption


Sonali Samarasinghe, Ithaca City of Asylum’s writer in residence, is the focus of a front page interview in the Ithaca Journal. The story describes Sonali as an award-winning investigative journalist, editor, and lawyer from Sri Lanka who worked for more than two decades fighting for justice in her country and exposing government corruption. The wide-ranging interview covers her work in Sri Lanka, her need to flee her home country, and her life now in Ithaca as a scholar in residence at Ithaca College. The full interview, including a video of Sonali, can be found here.

Board Member Publishes Book on Families and Fracking


Ithaca City of Asylum board member, Lamar Herrin, has recently published his latest book, Fractures. This is a novel that uses the issue of hyrofracking to provide the context for a story about family and connections. Herrin, a professor emeritus of creative writing and contemporary literature at Cornell University, talks about his new work with fellow board member Barbara Adams in an interview published in the Ithaca Journal.

As part of the discussion, the author talks about the location of the novel and the use of hydrofracking. “I’m a writer for whom place is very important. If you write about a place, you preserve it. One of the reasons writers write is to hold onto things, so things don’t vanish out from under them. So I did feel the need to write about Ithaca. I love this place, and I realized it was time to write about it. And the issue that was pushing itself in my face was hydrofracking.

It’s a provocative social issue that has to do with land, water, the air we breathe. These are the kind of issues novelists go for — the more basic and elemental, the more wide-reaching the book is going to be. The big problem was dealing with hydrofracking in a non-polemical way. I struggled to suppress my own personal feelings about the wisdom of fracking in the service of a novel and characters who are responding to it differently. All the characters, absolutely every one, has mixed feelings about whether to drill or not; none is a clear advocate or opponent of it.”

Fractures is an intense family drama, and nothing is more personal or family-oriented than the land. And this is family land.

The full interview is available here.

Park Foundation Awards Grant to ICOA


The Park Foundation has announced a grant of $10,000 to Ithaca City of Asylum, to be used to fund the organization’s activities in the next two years.

“We are deeply grateful to the Park Foundation for this new commitment,” says Bridget Meeds, ICOA chair. “The foundation was our first funder to step forward in 2001 as we began our work, and has provided funding continuously to ICOA since then. Their support has made our work possible.”

Sarah Mkhonza joins the faculty of Stanford University


ICOA is pleased to announce that former writer in residence Sarah Mkhonza has joined the faculty of Stanford University, where she will teach courses in Zulu and Xhosa.

Visual Art on Banned Books


ICOA is pleased to invite you to an art show at the Tompkins County Public Library, featuring art based on Banned Books. The exhibition is available until December 20, 2013 and contains work by two Ithaca City of Asylum board members–Bridget Meeds and Kenny Berkowitz. Image


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.