When you’re making the art rounds to Randyland and the multi-site Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, be sure to wander down to 408 Sampsonia Way. It’s here that you’ll find House Poem, painted in 2004 by exiled Chinese author Huang Xiang. The stunning piece was the first in a series of text-based artworks for the City of Asylum residency program, which gives banned and repressed writers a public platform to express themselves—without fear of persecution.
Other “house publications” along the street have included Winged House, based on a passage from Nigerian Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka’s memoir, and the Pittsburgh-Burma House, a colorful collaboration between Burmese writer Khet Mar and her husband/artist Than Htay Maung.
The exteriors aren’t the only canvases under the City of Asylum umbrella; the once-blighted houses have also been rehabbed as sanctuaries where exiled writers can live and work. Most participants stay in the program two to three years; current residents include scribes from Syria (Osama Alomar), Bangladesh (Tuhin Das), and Venezuela (Israel Centeno).
City of Asylum’s offices are located on West North Avenue. The address houses City of Asylum Books, a store specializing in global lit and translated works, and Alphabet City, a venue for concerts, readings, lectures, broadcasts, and film. The nonprofit even publishes its own literary magazine, Sampsonia Way, focused on issues of free speech and social justice.
40 W. North Ave., Pittsburgh, PA; 412-435-1110.