‘Community is a key aspect of the safety that sanctuary provides.’
The term is often used for a place of safety, but we often forget that with that safety comes the implication of danger elsewhere, of a hostile world to which sanctuary is the exception, not the rule. In medieval Europe, a person might have sought sanctuary in a church when fleeing persecution (or prosecution) from authorities – in other words, from a power structure that wished to remove their agency and being.
Today, although people are no longer fleeing to places of worship as means of legal escape, the essential concept of sanctuary has not changed all that much. Sanctuaries still exist as spaces where those who refuse to give in to society’s attempts to erase them can come together in safety. The Scottish BPOC Writers Network (SBWN) is one such space, conceived in 2018 as a sanctuary for Scotland’s writers of colour to develop and flourish away from the confines, pressures, and prejudices of spaces dominated by whiteness.
But we could not exist, as a sanctuary or really in any other respect, without the amazing writers of our network – some of whose work you’ll read in this month’s issue – so we reached out to them on social media to find out how they defined the concept of ‘sanctuary’. Among the comments we received were these thought-provoking responses:
‘Sanctuary for me is the place where there is warmth, people that understand you and a place with no judgement but a blanket to keep you safe. Allowing you to be the person you are’ – Sanjay Lago
Community is a key aspect of the safety that sanctuary provides. Going back to the medieval European example, the sanctuary of the church was sustained by the people who worshiped there, the clergy who presided over services, and the staff who kept its daily affairs running smoothly; the building may have served as the physical site of sanctuary, but the reality of that sanctuary depended upon groups of people drawing together to offer refuge to those who needed it.
The pieces published in this month’s Books From Scotland explore how such communities may be constructed and approached in a globalised Scottish context. From Lorraine Wilson’s essay on mentoring fellow writers of colour, to Shasta Ali’s long-form poem on the generational histories of migration contained in an item of traditional clothing, to Leela Soma’s article on creating the Kavya Prize for Scotland’s writers of colour across genres, they examine the connections that bring us together and encourage us to strengthen these in our own creative and personal lives.
‘Sanctuary is a place of renewal, where what was depleted can be restored and recreated.’ – Zebib K. A.
Seeking sanctuary is often a reaction to loss – not always in a quantifiable sense, but rather in the abstract: mental, emotional, psychological, and/or spiritual depletion, whether it accompanies more quantifiable losses or comes on its own. Sanctuary is a space where we might find wholeness and regain our full personhood, despite what the outside world bombards us with. We see this in, for example, Wacera Kamonji’s essay on carving out sanctuary in the face of hostile UK policies attempting to strip it away, and in Hannah Lavery’s reflection on themes of bloodshed, survival, and pandemic as a Black woman in Scotland. These pieces remind us that the sanctuary we need may be difficult to establish, but that makes it all the more necessary.
‘My sanctuary resides in the ancient crevices of my heart. Only I hold the key and I’m locked within.’ – Christiana Aliu
At the core of the community-building and struggles that build sanctuary is what each of us holds in our own heart. Sanctuary emerges from and comes back to these ‘ancient crevices’, acting as a space where we can shore up our innermost reserves: the tools that allow us to restore, renew, and reach out in future times of need. The books we have excerpts from this month – Jay Gao’s Imperium, Arun Sood’s New Skin For the Old Ceremony: A Kirtan, Alycia Pirmohamed’s Another Way to Split Water, the Re.creation anthology of queer poets, and Dean Atta’s Only on the Weekends – draw upon deeply personal wellsprings of experience, of individual histories, of inner conflict, and of breakthroughs.
We hope this issue of Books From Scotland provides a slice of sanctuary for you: a place to (re)connect, discover new writers and new ways of looking at writing, share in other communities and histories, and of course to find joy in the fantastic work put forth by some of Scotland’s many talented writers of colour.
-Kelly Kanayama and the Scottish BPOC Writers Network