Ithaca City of Asylum

Ithaca writers share their journeys in ‘Odysseys’ reading series

Odysseys event poster

Homer’s Odyssey recounts the adventures of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, as he seeks to return home after the Trojan War. In four monthly readings, pairs of Ithaca‑based writers provide their own takes on the theme of odysseys, from the physical to the intellectual to the emotional.

“Odysseys: Ithaca Writers on Exile, Wandering, and Searching for Home” is organized by Ithaca City of Asylum and cosponsored by Buffalo Street Books, Global Cornell, Cornell Migrations, Ithaca College Department of Writing, Odyssey Bookstore, Story House Ithaca, and Tompkins County Public Library.

All readings are via Zoom and begin at 7 p.m. Admission is free. Please register for each event separately.

  • Session 1: Tuesday, Feb. 23 (watch on YouTube): Gail Holst-Warhaft and Aoise Stratford, moderated by David Guaspari
  • Session 2: Tuesday, March 16 (register): Raza Rumi and Sorayya Khan, moderated by Barbara Adams
  • Session 3: Tuesday, April 13 (register): Valzhyna Mort and Raul Palma, moderated by Kate Blackwood
  • Session 4: Tuesday, May 18 (register): Minfong Ho and Kenneth A. McClane, moderated by Edward Hower

About the authors

Gail Holst-Warhaft (February 23) has been a poet, translator, journalist, academic, and musician. Born in Australia, she lived for five years in Greece, where she played harpsichord with the composer Mikis Theodorakis and wrote two books about Greek popular music. After moving to Ithaca in 1980, she received a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at Cornell and taught courses on Mediterranean culture. She is a board member and former chair of Ithaca City of Asylum. Gail has published two books on grief and lament, many translations of Greek literature, and two collections of her own poetry. One, Penelope’s Confession, is written from the perspective of Odysseus’ wife.

Aoise Stratford (February 23) is a dramaturg, writer, and lecturer at Cornell. Her plays have won several awards and been produced around the world, including at National Theatre London, The Seymour Center, InspiraTO Festival, Solo Chicago, Centenary Stage, and others. Her play The Unfortunates won the 2012 Susan Glaspell Award and was a Time Out NY Critics Pick. Locally, she has co-authored two walking headphone plays for The Cherry Arts and adapted A Christmas Carol for The Hangar Theatre. She grew up in Australia.

Sorayya Khan (March 16) is the author of the novels Noor, Five Queen’s Road, and City of Spies, which received the Best International Fiction Book Award from the Sharjah International Book Fair. She is the recipient of a U.S. Fulbright Research Grant, a Malahat Review Novella Prize, and a Constance Saltonstall Artist Grant. Her work has appeared in Guernica, Longreads, The Kenyon Review, North American Review, Journal of Narrative Politics, and other publications. She is currently at work on a memoir.

Raza Ahmad Rumi (March 16) is director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College and visiting faculty at the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs. He is the author of Delhi by Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani TravelerThe Fractious Path: Pakistan’s Democratic Transition; Identity, Faith, and Conflict; and Being Pakistani: Society, Culture, and the Arts. He co-edited a volume of essays entitled Rethinking Pakistan that was published by Anthem Press in September 2020. Raza was Ithaca City of Asylum’s writer in residence from 2014 to 2017 and now serves on the ICOA board.

Valzhyna Mort (April 13) is a poet and translator born in Minsk, Belarus. She is the author of the poetry collections Factory of Tears (Copper Canyon Press 2008), Collected Body (Copper Canyon Press 2011) and, mostly recently, Music for the Dead and Resurrected (FSG, 2020). Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry, New Yorker, Poetry, Poetry Review, Poetry International, Prairie Schooner, Granta, Gulf Coast, White Review, and many more publications. She has been honored with the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry and the Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award. Mort teaches at Cornell and writes in English and Belarusian.

Raul Palma (April 13) is a novelist, short story writer, and assistant professor of writing at Ithaca College, where he serves as the faculty advisor to Stillwater Magazine. His fiction has been included in Best Small Fictions 2018 and distinguished/notable in Best American Short Stories 2016. His work has been supported with fellowships and scholarships from the CubaOne Foundation, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center, the Santa Fe Writer’s Conference, the Sewanee Writer’s Conference, and the Sundress Academy for the Arts. Presently, he is at work on a novel titled A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens.

Minfong Ho (May 18) was born in Myanmar of ethnic Chinese parents, raised in Thailand, and educated in Taiwan and the United States. She has written several books for young adults and children, mostly set in Southeast Asia. These include The Clay Marble and Hush! She worked as a journalist in Singapore, taught at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, and ran a food program on the Thai-Khmer border for Cambodian refugees. Although she has remained a U.S. Permanent Alien for over 35 years, Ithaca has come to feel like home.

Kenneth A. McClane (May 18) is Cornell’s W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of Literature Emeritus and the author of eight books of poems, including A Tree Beyond Telling and Take Five: Collected Poems, 1971-1986. He has also written two collections of personal essays: Walls (1992) and Color: Essays on Race, Family and History (2009). He has served on the board of trustees of Adelphi University, and on the board of directors of the Tompkins County Library Foundation, the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, the New York Council for the Humanities, and the Tompkins County Community Foundation.

For more information, please contact David Guaspari at

Meet ICOA intern Mae McDermott

The ICOA board is delighted to introduce Spring 2021 intern Mae McDermott. Mae has already been of great assistance creating graphics for the “Odysseys” series, helping us make sense of our mailing lists, and looking into potential funders. We asked her to say a few words about herself.

Mae Mcdermott

I’m a writing major and English minor at Ithaca College, where I serve as co-editor in chief of Stillwater Magazine, layout editor of Buzzsaw Magazine, and peer tutor at the Ithaca College Writing Center. I’ve also worked as a marketing intern at Cornell University Press. My poems have been performed on the podcast Newcomers, and my essays have appeared in Oakland Arts ReviewBorrowed SolaceLoose Tooth, Off the Page, Passion Project,and Buzzsaw Magazine.

My grandfather escaped from Communist-occupied Czechoslovakia to escape danger and commit himself to a free press. Shaped by this journalistic family tradition, I have always believed in writing as a medium of human connection and peaceful self-expression.

You can learn more about Mae and read some of her work at her personal website. Welcome, Mae!

A Christmas Story

Origami bird with pen and olive branch

On Christmas Day 2018, Pedro X. Molina, his wife, and their two young children traveled from their small city in the north of Nicaragua to the airport in Managua. With just carry-on baggage, they told the authorities they were going to America to spend New Year’s with friends.

Pedro was a well-known political cartoonist whose work appeared in an opposition newspaper. Two weeks earlier, the government had taken over the newspaper’s offices, as well as those of an opposition television station. After months of increasingly menacing threats, Pedro and his wife decided it was no longer safe to stay.

The officials at the airport let them pass. The next day, the Molinas arrived in Ithaca, a place they hadn’t heard of until a short time before. They have been here ever since.

Ithaca City of Asylum paid for their airfare, found them housing and a car, helped them secure proper visas, and arranged for Pedro to teach at Ithaca College. Over the past two years, we have lent a hand with schools, English classes, lesson plans, cell phones, taxes, work opportunities, and a hundred other details.

For ICOA, this not just about helping a family in need. It is about standing up for writers, artists, journalists, and others who risk their lives to say what they think. We are part of a worldwide network of groups working to protect free expression, and what we do in our small community echoes across the planet. Your support makes it possible.

We all love happy endings, but sometimes the world makes you wait. A few days ago, the Nicaraguan government announced that it had formally taken ownership of Pedro’s newspaper’s offices. Around the same time, new laws came into effect imposing harsh penalties on Nicaraguans who dare to speak out.

With his daily cartoons and tens of thousands of social media followers, Pedro X. Molina has never stopped speaking out. He may not be able to go home right now, but he refuses to be silenced. We will do what we can to help.

We wish you a peaceful holiday and a happy and healthy New Year.

Inside the Cartoonist’s Mind

Online event Tuesday, December 1, 4 p.m. ET

How do you make sense of a complicated world in a single panel? In “Inside the Cartoonist’s Mind: Creativity in Challenging Times,” Ithaca City of Asylum’s artist-in-residence Pedro X. Molina and nationally syndicated cartoonist Rob Rogers provide a peek into their creative process, from headline to sketchbook to finished product.

The free online event takes place on Tuesday, December 1, at 4 p.m. Eastern Time via Zoom. Register here to receive the Zoom link in advance. BREAKING: If you missed it, you can see the presentation here.

Pedro X, Molina, winner of the Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award from Cartoonists Rights Network International, was forced to flee Nicaragua with his family in December 2018 during a crackdown on dissent. Rob Rogers, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, was fired by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for his cartoons critical of Donald Trump. They will discuss their experiences, then share their screens and let us watch their creations take shape.

“Inside the Cartoonist’s Mind” is organized by Ithaca City of Asylum, hosted by the Tompkins County Public Library, and funded by the Freedom to Read Foundation, which is affiliated with the American Library Association.

All are welcome, but subject matter will be targeted towards an older teen/adult audience. For more information, email

“Crossing the Line” available for streaming

Crossing the Line,” our Banned Books Week presentation featuring cartoonists Pedro X. Molina and Rob Rogers, was a smash success, with more than 300 people watching from all over the world. Pedro and Rob’s stories were moving, informative, and entertaining, and their cartoons were extraordinary.

Don’t worry if you missed it — you can watch the program here. It’s one hour and sixteen minutes long and well worth the time!

New book showcases work of persecuted Greek musician

ICOA board member Gail Holst-Warhaft has translated The House with the Scorpions: Selected Poems and Song-Lyrics of Mikis Theodorakis, featuring the work of one of modern Greece’s most important musical figures. “I can’t think of anyone who has suffered more for his writings and music than Theodorakis,” Holst-Warhaft says.

The book is available at Buffalo Street Books. The remainder of this post is from the book’s publisher, Fomite.

In Greece, Mikis Theodorakis is a national icon. He is the country’s most famous composer, and a figure who has spent his life struggling against injustice and oppression in his own country and elsewhere. He has been jailed and tortured for his beliefs, continuing to produce a stream of music and poetry despite his suffering. It is time that his own poetry was recognized as an important element in his creative life.  In an age where Bob Dylan can win a Nobel Prize, and Leonard Cohen’s lyrics are treasured as poems, it is also time to recognize the importance of the song-lyric as a literary form.

Gail Holst-Warhaft, who has spent many years working with the composer as a musician, biographer and translator, has translated all of the composer’s lyrics and combined them with Theodorakis’s virtually unknown poems. Together, they reveal a man whose passion for poetry was the wellspring of his creativity. The book presents Theodorakis’s poems and lyrics in Greek and English. This makes it clear that the translations do not obey the rhyme-scheme of the originals but try to maintain rhythmic patterns that are satisfying to the English ear. This book is not only a collection of Theodorakis’s poetry, but the record of an extraordinary life.

About the author and translator

When someone asked Mikis Theodorakis where he got his inspiration for his music, he answered: “It’s very simple. I never thought of my music as anything but a way to clothe Greek poetry.”  Theodorakis is known to the world as a composer. To the English-speaking world, unfortunately, he is known principally for his film scores, particularly the score of Zorba the Greek, and a few of his popular songs. To the Greeks, Theodorakis is the man who combined the greatest poetry of their country with his own prodigious melodic gifts to create a river of unforgettable songs. Few think of him as a poet, and yet he wrote fine poems, some of which became the lyrics of his songs.

Gail Holst-Warhaft was born in Australia. Besides being a poet she has been a journalist, broadcaster, prose writer, academic, musician, and translator. In the 1970’s, while researching a book on Greek music, Holst-Warhaft performed as a keyboard-player with Greece’s leading composers, including Mikis Theodorakis. She has published translations of Aeschylus, and of a number of modern Greek poets and prose-writers. Her poems and translations of Greek poetry have appeared in journals in the US, the U.K., Australia, and Greece. Her most recent book is Lucky Country (Fomite, 2018).

For interviews and appearances, contact Gail Holst-Warhaft at

Pedro & Jonathan on human rights show

ICOA artist-in-residence Pedro X. Molina and ICOA board chair Jonathan Miller were interviewed on WRFI‘s Human Rights Show on Friday, September 18. Pedro talked about the political situation in Nicaragua and the circumstances surrounding his emergency departure in December 2018 during a crackdown on independent media. Jonathan talked about ICOA’s mission and work and the October 2 “Crossing the Line” event featuring Pedro and cartoonist Rob Rogers.

You can hear the hour-long interview here. WRFI is community radio for Ithaca and Watkins Glen.

The Ithaca Times has also featured Pedro and Jonathan in an article. You can read it here.

“Crossing the Line” Celebrates Cartooning and Risk

Online event Friday, October 2, 7 p.m. 

Please join Ithaca City of Asylum (ICOA) and City of Asylum Pittsburgh for “Crossing the Line,” a virtual (and highly visual) conversation about cartooning, free expression, censorship, and personal risk.

The free online event will take place on Friday, October 2, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. Featured guests are internationally acclaimed political cartoonists Pedro X. Molina of Nicaragua and Rob Rogers of Pittsburgh.

Both artists have paid a steep price for their work. Molina (self-portrait above) was forced to flee Nicaragua with his family in December 2018 after his main media outlet, Confidencial, was taken over by government forces during a crackdown on dissent. He won the 2018 Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award from Cartoonists Rights Network International and is now ICOA’s artist-in-residence and a Visiting International Scholar in Residence at Ithaca College.

Rogers, winner of several national cartooning awards and a two-time Pulitzer finalist, was fired by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in June 2018 for his cartoons critical of Donald Trump. They will discuss their experiences and compare cartoons before taking audience questions.

“Crossing the Line” takes place during Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of the freedom to read. It is cosponsored by the International Cities of Refuge NetworkPEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection, City of Asylum Detroit, and Group 73 of Amnesty International.

Use the button above or click here to preregister now and receive reminders (recommended!) or sign in on the evening of the show. The event will be recorded and available for streaming afterward at the same URL.

“Crossing the Line” is made possible by funds from the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and administered by the Community Arts Partnership of Tompkins County. Additional support comes from the Freedom to Read Foundation, affiliated with the American Library Association

Pedro tells his story in Pittsburgh magazine

“I think humor is one of the best weapons that we have when we are dealing with oppressors,” ICOA artist-in-residence Pedro X. Molina says in a 4,000-word interview in the online magazine Sampsonia Way. “But every time they tighten their control and the violence grows, it gets harder to find something to laugh at.”

In “The Complicated Risk: An Interview with Pedro X. Molina,” writer Nicole Arthur questions Pedro on a wide range of topics, from the disastrous situation in Nicaragua to his childhood and development as an artist and his thoughts on humor, fear, and patriotism.

The “complicated risk” of the title refers to the difficult balance he has had to strike between his creative drive, his sense of duty to his people, and the very real threat of imprisonment or worse.

“I could have stayed in Nicaragua and at some point they would have taken me and put me in jail and I would no longer be able to create,” he tells Arthur. “I was not willing to accept this, so to preserve my creative power, I had to leave. This is both good and painful.” 

The writer, Nicole Arthur, is the Content, Communications, and Spiritual Formation Manager at Chesterton House, a Christian living and learning community at Cornell. A native of Pittsburgh, she is also a staff writer for Sampsonia Way.

Sampsonia Way is the in-house magazine of City of Asylum in Pittsburgh. Like ICOA, City of Asylum is a member of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN). ICOA and City of Asylum will sponsor a virtual event featuring Pedro and Pittsburgh-based editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers on Friday, October 2, at 7 p.m. More details will follow.

Read the interview here.

Update: Hanging on but could use help!

Illustration by Pedro X. Molina

We send our warmest greetings in this strangest of summers, a season of uncertainty and turmoil, awakening and hope. We wanted to catch you up on what we’ve been up to and invite you to lend a hand.

A busy time for ICOA

As you may know, ours is a two-part mission: to provide refuge in Ithaca to persecuted writers and artists and to speak up about freedom of expression and human rights. Our artist-in-residence, Pedro X. Molina, has been at the center of both those efforts.

Since arriving from Nicaragua in December 2018, Pedro has become an important voice in our community. In addition to teaching an Honors course at IC and guest lecturing in other classes, he has given talks and interviews, sat on panels, curated exhibitions, and participated in numerous public activities and events. This summer he will be working with local children through the Village at Ithaca.

All this while sending six cartoons a week to the Nicaraguan news outlet Confidencial, publishing two books of his work, and contributing to CounterpointPolitico, and other national and international publications.

In the last year, Pedro has spoken (or been invited to speak) in Amsterdam, Austin, Berlin, Chapel Hill, Columbus, Costa Rica, Lisbon, Miami, New York City, Paris, Strasbourg, and Toronto. Other achievements include a World Press Cartoon prize, Columbia Journalism School’s Maria Moors Cabot Prize for outstanding reporting on the Americas, and an Excellence in Journalism Award from the Inter American Press Association. We are very lucky to have him here.

Despite all this, these have been hard times for the Molinas, who have been largely confined to their apartment and cut off from friends and family as the coronavirus ravages their home country.

What’s next

It is looking increasingly unlikely that Nicaragua will be safe enough to return to when Pedro’s term with ICOA is officially over next May, so we have been working with him and his family on a plan for the future. Our capacity to help is diminished by the fact that we have lost important funding from Cornell. We have also begun our search for a new resident, but we’re unsure about what we’ll be able to do given our limited resources. This is troubling, as the risk for outspoken writers and artists is greater than ever.

To that end, we have been working to strengthen the network of cities of asylum around the U.S. and the world, partnering with City of Asylum in Pittsburgh on programming (see below) and sharing our experiences with groups in New York, Detroit, Arkansas, and elsewhere. We have also been monitoring cases of harassment and imprisonment of writers, journalists, and artists through ICORNPEN, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and other organizations. 

How you can help

Please consider making a donation to Ithaca City of Asylum today. ICOA is an all-volunteer project of the Center for Transformative Action, a 501(c)3 organization. Donations are tax deductible. Donating is easy online via GiveGab. You can also mail a check to ICOA, c/o CTA, 119 Anabel Taylor Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853. Please make your check out to the Center for Transformative Action and write ICOA on the memo line. We will send donors who give $500 or more a copy of Forbidden Voices, a handsome book that features our former writer-in-residence Sonali Samarasinghe

Save the date!

Please plan to join us on Friday, October 2, 7 p.m. for “Crossing the Line,” our first-ever virtual Voices of Freedom celebration to mark Banned Books Week. We are teaming up with City of Asylum in Pittsburgh to bring you an illustrated conversation between Pedro Molina and Rob Rogers, an internationally acclaimed editorial cartoonist who was fired by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2018 for his cartoons critical of Donald Trump. Both Pedro and Rob have paid a stiff price for publicly calling out their countries’ political leadership. It should be a mind-opening (and even humorous!) evening. More details later this summer. Thanks to the Community Arts Partnership of Tompkins County for their support for this event. 
Shoot us an email if you have any thoughts or questions. You can also follow us on Facebook and bookmark our website. And feel free to forward this message to anyone you think may be interested!
P.S. Our thoughts are with the nearly 80 million forcibly displaced people who have had to survive the Covid-19 pandemic in places other than home. More than 30 million of those are refugees and asylum seekers. We’re determined not to forget them as we deal with our own challenges.