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UNESCO: Creative Writing & Mental Health: East African Representations & Voices

To celebrate Exeter’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature, the Centre held a short call for literary research projects. 

Working with Kigali-based Huza Press and African creative writing teaching initiative Saseni!, this project is concerned with supporting East Africa-based writers to write and publish creative work that engages with issues of mental health. It is a creative, critical and collaborative research initiative concerned with highlighting the relationship between literature and well-being, with modes of supporting writers who are interested in exploring difficult and traumatic subjects, and with increasing the visibility and complexity of the narratives of mental illness circulating in the East African region. This forms a key part of an emerging stream of Africa-focused programming which is an anchor project for Exeter’s UNESCO City of Literature, focusing on building event and research connections between Devon and East Africa. It will also enter into dialogue with work being done by partner Royal African Society, highlighting current innovations shaping mental healthcare in Africa today and developing a roadmap for working towards the WHO’s Mental Health Action Plan.

Led by Dr Kate Wallis, the seed funding enabled the team to begin building the partner relationships, audiences and digital materials to support a larger project. They initially worked with Huza Press and Saseni!, to develop and run a 2-hour online creative writing workshop for up to 15 writers based in East Africa. This workshop focused in particular on supporting the development of narratives around mental health that respond specifically to the challenges brought about by COVID19. Working with Huza Press and Saseni! to develop audiences and materials for this one-off workshop enabled the building of an evidence-base that informed the development of this longer-term project, providing vital information about writer engagement as well as the kinds of writing and support creative writers in the region are looking for and could benefit from.

Read the full report here: Creative Writing & Mental Health: East African Representations & Voice