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Migration and Literature

“In these foreign lands

A bag for provisions is my sole possession 

Stale bread lies within, and passion 

Also my notebook

That I filled with my dreams

That infuriates me page by page

That I spit on whenever it irritates me!”

(Mahmoud Darwish, “Ölümü Seviyorlar Benim”, p. 13)



Migration has been a concept that has coexisted and evolved with human beings since their existence. We are living in a global age of migration. People or communities emigrate voluntarily or involuntarily for many different reasons. Migration has many different causes as well as various consequences. Although the modern world tends to ignore these causes and consequences, migration remains one of the most important phenomena of this age.

Literature always reflects the social elements and changes of its time. Migration is also one of these elements. In the literary works, the element of migration can be handled as a fact. It is also possible to see this element in the form of migrant literature, intercultural literature, and the literature that comes with migration. If we were to treat migration as a social reality, “the desire or necessity to abandon the usual and to live a new life in a different environment” has been a prevalent issue since the creation of human beings. Approaches to migration in literary works can be quite diverse. In addition to the literary works which deal with migration, writers and poets who experienced it created a movement called “migrant literature” where they share their migration stories, and their experiences afterwards. In a broader sense, migrant literature is a “testimonial literature”. The texts are fueled by numerous testimonies, adding more testimonies to the existing ones. Testimonies provide a basis for action, and they establish the dynamics of the literary work along with structure. In this sense, most of the works which belong to the migrant literature arise from the combination of testimonies and structure. Especially in the 19th century, writers and poets who emigrated from Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Jordan to Western countries such as the U.S.A and Canada started a movement known as “Mahjar Literature”, which influenced many artists during and after. Kahlil Gibran, Mikhail Naimy and Ameen Rihani are some of the most prominent names from this movement. Apart from being literary figures who emigrated and composed works about migration, these authors produced excellent literary works on this subject. Furthermore, Exilliteratur (exile literature), which can be considered as a sub-field of migrant literature, is also a rich movement. Literary works which belong to exile literature are mainly created by the writers who escaped from the persecution of Nazi Germany. However, exile literature is not only a form of writing specific to the writers escaping from Nazi Germany. Even today, people from various parts of the world, who are forced to leave their hometowns or to emigrate for numerous reasons, contribute to this field.

“Evi dağılanın yurdu genişler mi?” (Does losing your home expand your horizon?) (Gürbilek, 2020: 13) Literature plays a major role for people who lost their homes and who are in search of a new place to sustain their lives. Literature becomes a new home for the migrant. In a way, writing is an act of “searching for a new home”. Writers create this home with their writings. In his famous work “Minima Moralia”, Theodor Adorno says, “The writer builds a home through his words” (2002: 89). In this respect, writing is a new shelter for the homeless. From a broader perspective, literature can be considered as an act of building a new home. Also in “Minima Moralia”, Adorno points out, “Writing is a place to live for the people who no longer have a home” (2002: 89). Writing is a new form of existence for the exiled and migrants. In this sense, migration and literature has a strong, multi-layered connection.

Another aspect of migration and literature is opposition. People who emigrate or who are forced to emigrate from their country for various reasons oppose this situation through writing. Therefore, longing and hope are two of the most important elements of the relation between migration and literature. The longing that the people have for their homeland, and the great hope which they carry within themselves as well as in their writings that one day, they will return their homes where they were born and grew up…

Writers who have emigrated or dealt with the issue of migration build a homeland for themselves out of their words. In this regard, writing and literature have a crucial significance for migrant writers. Even though the boundaries and laws are determined strictly in our age, migration remains as an in-between state for migrants due to lack of legal rights and being a foreigner wherever they go. For this reason, traces of this in-between state are quite discernable in literary texts which are about the relation of migration and literature. Writing and literature offer an opportunity for the migrants who are silenced by laws and boundaries to express themselves. Literature is the language of the silenced, oppressed, and shunned; it will also be the language of migrants. Although the world tends to ignore migration and migrants, the people who are facing these issues are having their voice heard through literature. The relationship between migration and literature essentially relies on a form of existence. The migrant who is treated as an outsider by laws and boundaries, pursues to express himself or herself with the help of literature. In this aspect, literature has a vital place in terms of migration and for migrants.


Adorno, Theodor W. (2002), Minima Moralia. Istanbul: Metis Publishing.

Darwish, Mahmoud (?), Ölümü Seviyorlar Benim. Istanbul: Armoni Publishing.

Gürbilek, Nurdan (2020), İkinci Hayat [Second Life]. Istanbul: Metis Publishing.