By Chloe Burkart

City of Asylum recently brought home Citizens Bank’s 2018 “Champion in Action” award for the Western Pennsylvania region. They are one of hundreds of thriving nonprofit organizations to be recognized in the 15 years of Champions in Action.

For all of the efforts of the staff and volunteers who help make City of Asylum a beacon of hope for endangered literary writers, they will receive $35,000 in unrestricted funds, media support and coverage, volunteers from Citizens Bank and promotional advertising in Citizens Bank branches and on their website.

Citizens Bank created the Champions in Action program to recognize and reward community nonprofits for their commitment to addressing the social challenges of their communities. They honor organizations they believe are “shining examples of dedication and determination.” The current honorees are being recognized for their commitment to social entrepreneurship and enterprises.

Since opening their doors in 2004, the Pittsburgh City of Asylum has undergone an inspiring metamorphosis, all due to the overwhelming support from their writers and community. Poet Huang Xiang’s “House Poem” sparked the transformation of the homes of exiled writers on Sampsonia Way into pieces of art, or “house publications.” Writers filled the exterior of their homes with artwork in celebration of their newfound freedom from censorship provided by the Asylum.

A year later, City of Asylum hosted their first free Jazz Poetry Concert which fostered a sincere connection between resident writers and the Northside community. The response turned what was intended as a one-time event into a yearly opportunity for Northsiders to witness the organization’s mission. Since then, City of Asylum began integrating monthly readings, publishing Sampsonia Magazine, and developing writer exchanges with other cities around the world.

City of Asylum is one of over 50 locations worldwide in the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) whose goal is to provide refuge and support to persecuted literary writers. Most of these 50 locations serve as a temporary safe haven, but Pittsburgh is committed to integrating exiled writers into a new supportive community to call home.

The Pittsburgh chapter of this European-born mission to protect the lives of threatened writers is one of three in the United States. Both the Ithaca and Las Vegas locations are sponsored by universities, but Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum built its haven from the ground up through gracious community support. Over the years, they have provided exiled writers and their families with resources to live comfortably, as well as assisted in producing, translating and publishing their work.