Exiled writer makes a new home in Pittsburgh

Horacio Castellanos Moya, an exiled El Salvadoran novelist, has relocated to Pittsburgh.

After being the target of unofficial government threats regarding his controversial political writing, Moya, 49, was forced to flee his native country in 1997. He found refuge in Pittsburgh’s chapter of the Cities of Asylum (COA) program late last year after traversing Latin America and Europe in the years following his exile.

Cities of Asylum protects persecuted writers and artists who have left their native countries, providing them with living arrangements and connections to cultural ties within their new city. The only four U.S. cities that are currently involved are Las Vegas, Santa Fe, Ithaca, N.Y., and Pittsburgh, according to the organization’s website.

Known in El Salvador for his provocative and moving literature, Moya writes in a self-proclaimed “sarcastic, satiric” style about his country’s culture and political atmosphere, according to a February 11 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“While I never received what you might call ‘official’ threats, I knew that with the way things are in my country, [the threats] were very real,” Moya told the Post-Gazette. “And, I knew no one would ever be held responsible.”

The writer is the second persecuted artist to relocate to the Pittsburgh chapter of Cities of Asylum. Huang Xiang, an important post-cultural revolution poet from China, came to the city in November 2004. Both artists have already formed ties with the English department at the University of Pittsburgh. Moya will teach a course titled “Post Magical Realism in Latin American Literature” next fall, which will be cross-listed for both undergraduate and graduate students.

“I was invited by Chuck Kinder [the director of the Writing Program in the English department], to think about the possibility of giving a course in the Creative Writing [program],” Moya said.

“Last spring term, COA’s first writer-in-residence, Huang Xiang, taught a seminar on Chinese poetry for us,” Kinder said. “The University of Pittsburgh also helped to sponsor Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Nobel Laureate in Literature, when he visited Pittsburgh last September to dedicate the second COA residence.”

John Frechione, associate director for research and development of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, agreed.

“In general, we have offered to assist [Moya] in any way we can,” Frechione said.

That includes appointing him as a center associate of the Center for Latin American Studies and allowing the writer access to the University Library System and the Eduardo Lozano Latin American Library Collection.

These resources will help Moya begin work on his next creative fiction piece, or rather, pieces — Moya’s next work will be a trilogy about the political atmosphere in El Salvador following World War II.

In addition to the appointment, Frechione said, the English department has also placed Moya on mailing lists to receive information about Latin American-related events at the University of Pittsburgh and throughout the local region.

Moya has been impressed with the small but active Latin American community of Pittsburgh.

“I’m just starting to move around. There are a lot of activities,” Moya said.

NANCA, the North American Network of Cities of Asylum, looks for busy communities like Pittsburgh as possible locations in which to start new chapters of the organization.

“In each North American Asylum city, a grassroots effort is essential to ensure the longevity of the program. We will do our utmost to match a persecuted writer with a city willing to host and support that writer,” the organization’s executive board stated on the group’s website.

In addition to his academic exploration with the University of Pittsburgh, Moya has also explored the city itself, including the Mexican War Streets neighborhood in the north side, according to the Post-Gazette.

Is collaboration with Carnegie Mellon next?

“I’m open to regard any invitation,” the writer stated.

Moya said that he wasn’t sure how living and working in Pittsburgh, as opposed to Latin America, will affect the character of his upcoming trilogy.

“Who knows?” Moya said. “The process of writing is always mysterious.”