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Housing Program Creates Thriving Community For Writers

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(Photo Credit: KDKA)

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

FREELAND-WEB-HEADSHOT-2013 Lynne Hayes-Freeland
Lynne Hayes-Freeland is a general assignment reporter known for live,...
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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — City of Asylum offers beautifully decorated houses on Samponsia Way to writers who have nowhere else to call home.

Here, persecuted writers can start a new life with a two-year residency, a $30,000 per year stipend, and health insurance. This is all thanks to the vision of program founder Henry Reese, who turned homes he already owned into a safe haven for writers.

“The first writer in our program, to take an example, had been in prison seven times over a 12 year period, brutally tortured in China. Another writer received anonymous threats that he was going be killed because someone didn’t like the book he read and it insulted the national dish. Can you imagine?” Henry Reese says.

City of Asylum’s newest resident writer is Israel Centeno. He came to Pittsburgh from Venezuela, where he was exiled for writing a fictional novel that caused problems with the regime of Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez.

“I am thinking in a different way than the government, than the leadership, government. And I tried to keep writing in my way, in my free way. This a problem,” Israel says.

After publishing his novel, “El Complot,” Israel lost his job, his home, and his peace of mind.

“They threatened me, they threatened my two daughters. They called my mom. In a demonstration they broke my arm,” Israel says.

Israel was forced to leave his homeland and his wife and two daughters behind. Things didn’t get any easier for his family.

“What scared me the most was our safety. I was scared that someday someone came and tell me someone in my family was killed,” Israel’s daughter says.

After a year and a half away from his wife and children, Israel has finally found safety here in Pittsburgh. He plans to make a new life in America and to keep writing.

“For a writer, it’s vital to keep writing. To make your work. And this is my work, my only work. The only thing I know is write and read,” Israel says.

No one understands that better than founder Henry Reese, who wants to grow the program.

“It’s fundamental to their societies and fundamental to people who are willing to take that kind of stand to protect them,” Reese says.

For more information about the City of Asylum program, visit their website: CityOfAsylumPittsburgh.org

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