The 19th annual Literary Festival at Mercyhurst has begun in earnest, beginning with the first reader, Bewketu Seyoum on Thursday, March 18, at 8 p.m.
His reading was hosted both on Zoom and on Facebook Live.
Seyoum hails from Ethiopia, and is not only a creative writer, but also an essayist and entertainer. In his home country, he has been honored as Ethiopian Best Novelist of the Year and Best Young Author. He is also widely considered the leading poet of his generation. He writes exclusively in his native tongue, Amharic, and translates his works to English with the help of a friend.
Interestingly, Seyoum expresses little interest in gaining a world-wide audience and prefers for his work to simply be for his people. Although he is from Ethiopia and still writes for his fellow Ethiopians, Seyoum is currently a resident at City of Asylum Pitts-burgh. The City of Asylum program gives refuge to international writers for a period of two years. However, not all writers qualify.
Only those who have been exiled from their home country can seek a home at the City of Asylum, a place where they can feel safe and work through any trauma with writing. In the case of Seyoum, his com-mon usage of thought-provoking themes of government corruption, police brutality and tribalism caused him to be attacked in his home country. Despite his concerning experience in Ethiopia, he hopes to return permanently one day.
Seyoum’s loyalty to his country shows in his works. During the reading, he read a poem and excerpts from two short stories. The poem he first read in the original Amharic. The language flowed like water, and although no one could understand the meaning, it was clear how masterfully the poem was rendered.
After reading his work in Amharic, Seyoum read it again in English. This time the political undertones were clear, and the beauty of the poetry was still captured. The excerpts from his short stories were only read in English, but one can imagine how pleasant it would have been to hear them in the rolling Amharic tongue. While both of his works were fictional, they took place in his home country and were based on his own personal experiences and observations.
His vivid descriptions, even though they were not in the language originally intended, procured images of humanity as clearly as if they were on a television.
After the readings, assistant dean of Hafenmaier College, Jeffery Roessner, Ph.D., led a Q&A session. Many students and faculty members had questions to ask, ranging from the translation pro-cess to what drives his inspiration as a writer. In terms of how long it takes to translate his works, Seyoum explained that with the help of his friend, it doesn’t take a terri-bly long time. That said, it really depends on the work. The longer ones of course take more time, but sometimes it is challenging to get the translation exactly how he wants it, so that important points are not lost.
Seyoum speaks Amharic and English, so he has not translated any of his works to any other languages. However, he does know of someone who translated some of his select poems to French.
Another student asked when Seyoum began considering him-self a writer. He described a weekly reading event he used to attend in college. “I used to send my poems and stories and they finally invited me to read,” said Seyoum. “I read one or two of my poems and there was a big applause from the audience. That gave me a sense that I was born with a talent as a writer.”
Clearly, Bewketu Seyoum is an incredibly talented author and poet, and gave an equally incredible reading. He has sacrificed endlessly for his craft, and yet he continues to pursue his talents. He asked for none of this, but he is embracing his strengths and living his life to the fullest.
“I think writing a lot of works makes me find my voice. I just happen to be a writer,” he said.