Miami To The Refuge
Alexandra de Armas
Living a nomadic and fear-filled life for 10 years led Chenjerai Hove to Miami: a City of Refuge.
“To be able to sit alone in a café in France without thinking the guy next to me is spying on me with a tape recorder in [his] pocket is frightening,” Hove, a Zimbabwe native, said. “All of a sudden I have all this vast space to drink [my] coffee and just relax. You can’t believe it. It’s like a dream.”
Hove, an author, essayist, human right activist, playwright and poet in Zimbabwe for more than 30 years, is now in Miami as a “writer-in-residence” with the program Miami: City of Refuge.
“The premise of the Miami: City of Refuge is to identify a writer whose life is being threatened due to their work and moving them to a ‘refuge city’ for two years, where they can live and work free of oppression and censorship,” said Alina Interián, executive director of the Florida Center for the Literary Arts.
The man who now walks the streets of Downtown Miami in a vibrant-colored shirt with a black messenger bag hanging on his left shoulder, was once a constant target of attack.
“[The police] use to break into my house and steal my computers and things in Zimbabwe,” Hove said. “Now I can sleep without even locking my door and relax, wake up and work and know that no one is going to steal my computer.”
Searching for the freedom to write, he fled his country in 2001. Hove then went from London to France, where he stayed for two years. When the French Government asked him to leave, he fled to Norway where he lived from 2005 to 2010.
“I never stopped writing,” Hove said.
Miami: City of Refuge was founded by prominent authors who wanted “to provide a safe haven for writers living in rogue nations throughout the world,” according to Interián. In 2009, the International Cities of Refuge Network was founded, creating various participating cities for the program.
Through the efforts of former Mayor of Miami Manny Diaz, Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padrón, the Florida Center for Literary Arts and a community grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Miami became the first city in the United States to be part of ICORN in 2009.
Hove was identified through PEN International Writers in Prison and Amnesty International; both organizations serve as advisers to help identify prosecuted writers.
Miami: City of Refuge provides Hove with a place to live close to Wolfson Campus and a work permit for two years.
“People don’t realize the importance of freedom until the time they’ve lost it,” Hove said. “When they’ve lost a leg, then you know how important the leg is.”
According to Michaela Tomova, chairperson for the communication, arts and philosophy department at InterAmerican Campus, Hove brings a new point of view each time he speaks to students.
“He brings to the College an international perspective and also the awareness of the rest of the world,” Tomova said. “We forget to stop and think that the problems that we are facing are probably very minor compared to what goes on in other countries, where people fight for their rights but also fight for just survival.”
Students say they find Hove’s courage inspirational.
“Just hearing his story of him coming from his native land and being prosecuted as a writer for the very same things that I have the freedom to do, it was just heart-felt,” said MDC alumnus Hakeen Rome. “It was truly a blessing to meet him, such a humble person. The spirit in his heart, it reflects someone who has been through some things but is appreciative to where he is at now. It just touched me intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.”
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