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Society of Fellows in the Humanities, The University of Hong Kong
'An act of welcome': writing as hospitality in Refugee Tales (2016)

In Refugee Tales, its editor David Herd suggests that the asylum process symbolically dehumanises asylum seekers by restricting their ability to narrate their story on, and in, their own terms. Refugee Tales is itself an attempt to remedy this situation: mimicking the structure of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales,the text presents us with a series of anonymous stories - The Detainee’s Tale, The Interpreter’s Tale, The Appellant’s Tale -, each exploring an aspect of the experiences of those seeking asylum in the UK. While Chaucer’s prologue describes the physical and mental attributes of his tale-tellers, Refugee Tales turns the focus onto us, its readers, with a powerful poetic call for us to develop an ethical and hospitable response to the refugee crisis.

This paper explores the ways in which Refugee Tales itself provides a shape for this hospitable response through its use of translation. Drawing upon Ricœur’s idea of linguistic hospitality, an approach which seeks to bring the foreign and the domestic into open interaction rather than aggressive opposition, I argue that the way in which the text translates the canonical Chaucer text into these 21st Century refugee stories challenges the traditional binaries between the foreign and the domestic. In so doing, Refugee Tales offers us an opportunity to think hospitably about our own response to those who seek refuge on our shores.


Harriet Hulme is a Post-doctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at The University of Hong Kong. She holds a PhD in Comparative Literature (2016) from University College London: her dissertation focused upon an ethics of translation through the work of three bilingual European authors. At HKU she is currently working on a project entitled On the Threshold: Locating an Ethics of Hospitality Between Home and Homelessness. Her research explores the ways in which the tension between the domestic and the nomadic shapes our contemporary understanding of hospitality.