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Human rights in the spotlight of UEA festival

Internationally acclaimed writers and human rights experts, and a film screening and play featuring stories of displaced people, will headline the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Being Human festival series.

The UK’s only national festival of the humanities, which starts this week, will include readings from poet George Szirtes and talks from Prof Dame Marina Warner and a number of UEA academics. Additionally, there will be two performances of a play that draws on the experiences of asylum-seeking young people – who are participating in the story – and a screening of ‘My Nazi Legacy,’ a documentary written by the prominent international lawyer Prof Philippe Sands QC.

The Writing Human Rights series at UEA, which is open to the public, runs November 9-20. The series is coordinated by UEA’s Dr Wendy McMahon as part of the wider national Being Human festival. Now in its second year, the Being Human festival is supported by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the British Academy (BA), with support from the Wellcome Trust. It is organised by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, with the Norwich events managed by UEA.

Dr McMahon, a senior lecturer in American Studies, said the Writing Human Rights series will bring together the public and those involved with human rights issues, young asylum seekers and refugees, writers and scholars who research human rights.

Dr McMahon said: “The UK has made a significant contribution to the ways in which human rights have been imagined, created and advocated for internationally, from Magna Carta to helping to write the UN Declaration of Human Rights in the wake of the second world war.


“We are delighted to have the opportunity to discuss, debate and explore how rights have been imagined and written throughout the course of history, and what we can learn from this in the present day when once again human rights are a key issue.”


The November 9 screening of ‘My Nazi Legacy’ was followed by a Q&A with Prof Sands of University College London and Prof Lyndsey Stonebridge, professor of modern literature and history in UEA’s School of History.


Prof Stonebridge said: “How we imagine justice is as important as how we practise it in courtrooms. Film, literature, art and culture are vital to the promotion of human rights. Philippe Sands is one of those unique lawyers who understands the moral power of the judicial imagination.”


Prof Stonebridge, who leads the Humanities and Human Rights project, is also giving a talk, ‘Why burn books?: What can writing tell us about rights’, on November 16. Other UEA Writing Human Rights talks include Dr McMahon on ‘Writing torture’, Prof Cathie Carmichael on ‘The Hague tribunal and the Balkan wars’, Dr Alexander Brown on ‘Hate speech’, and Dr Lee Jarvis on ‘Counter-terrorism, citizenship and human rights’.


On November 14-15, the play ‘Little Eden’ takes a satirical look at nationalism, with poignant vignettes from teenage asylum seekers living in Norfolk.


Award-winning poet and translator, George Szirtes, will read his own poems and those of others around the themes of displacement, rights and freedom of expression, on Nov 19. Szirtes, who is retired from UEA, came to England from Hungary as a refugee, at the age of 8. His work often touches on ideas of belonging, both in a European and a British context.  


Rounding out the UEA events, the writer Marina Warner, who is professor of English and creative writing at  Birkbeck College, University of London, will be exploring the role pf literature in the lives of displaced and exiled people. Her talk, ‘The sanctuary of stories: losing homes, finding words’, will be followed by a conversation with Prof Stonebridge. It is the final event in the UEA series, on November 20.


The events hosted by UEA are part of an 11-day national programme of big ideas, big debates and engaging activities for all ages. The Being Human festival aims to champion the excellence of humanities research being undertaken in the UK, while showcasing how the humanities help us understand relationships and the challenges we face in a changing world.


Most events are free but booking is recommended as spaces are limited. The Writing Human Rights series of events are held at UEA and at various locations around Norwich.

To book tickets and for more information, visit:

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