Pittsburgh and Brussels are going to be seeing a lot more of each other from now on thanks to a new annual writer exchange program between City of Asylum/Pittsburgh and Belgium-based literary organization Passa Porta.
Similar to COA/PGH, Passa Porta provides residencies to exiled and persecuted writers. It is part of the International Cities of Refuge Network.
This particular exchange is not for persecuted writers, but rather just a month-long swap. COA/PGH decided to send poet and Carnegie Mellon University professor Terrance Hayes to Brussels in June, and Passa Porta will send Flemish author Paul Mennes to Pittsburgh in August or September.
The goal of the author exchange is to forge “ongoing, sustainable relationships” between the two cities, said COA/PGH President Henry Reese.
“We’re establishing regional identities with other countries,” Reese said.
Over time, the two regions will ideally become familiar with each other and the relationships will shift and deepen, Reese said. People in Brussels will become familiar with Pittsburgh and people in Pittsburgh will become familiar with Brussels,
The residencies are set up to allow each writer to be maximally productive but also get to know the new city. Each writer will do a reading and have a chance to sightsee and meet other area writers.
This year’s writers were chosen by each organization. Reese said he isn’t sure what the process for choosing future writers will evolve into at this point.
Reese said he takes each foreign writer who does a residency with COA/PGH to all the tourist spots like the Mt. Washington overlook. Some writers prefer socialization over sightseeing, though, so there’s no set “orientation” to the city.
Mennes is currently working on a book set in the United States, Reese said, so he expects Mennes to be inquisitive.
The two literary organizations began talking a few years ago when COA/PGH approached Passa Porta for ideas on how to form its own literary center and book store, since Passa Porta already had one. Passa Porta also holds a literary festival each year.