Transnational Literature, Vol 13, Oct 2021
Soyinka, Bambo, Editor in Chief, TNL Journal
Marshall, Jayne, Associate Managing Editor, TNL Journal
Special Edition: Follow the Sun
External Link: The Great Margin

Finding Community through Writing - Follow the Sun

There are writers who write for fame. And there are writers who write because we need to make sense of the world we live in; writing is a way to clarify, to interpret, to reinvent. We may want our work to be recognized, but that is not the reason we write. We do not write because we must; we always have a choice. We write because language is the way we keep a hold on life. With words we experience our deepest understandings of what it means to be intimate. We communicate to connect, to know the community. (bell hooks)

The Covid-19 pandemic brought the idea of place and displacement more clearly into focus for many people. For some, lockdown made the familiar patch of our own homes suddenly oppressive. For others, home was a place of refuge. Stranded at home, the outside world became a place of memory and nostalgia — a place we missed and longed to return to. At the same time, the outside could sometimes seem like a place of uncertainty and outright danger, turning us all into strangers in a world made foreign.

A notable feature of this new world was the digitalisation of our social interactions. Events that were unthinkable in their online iterations were suddenly the norm. Now, almost a year and a half on, if not unthinkable, it’s certainly odd to remember that we once would have travelled large distances to attend a cultural event, a job interview or a date. Or, conversely, that distance would have prevented us from even considering being a part of something that we can now choose to do without leaving our homes. Thus, the physical and the virtual have blended to bring about an entirely new way of thinking about place.

To this end, in January 2021, Transnational Literature organised ‘Follow the Sun’, an online conference bringing together writers, artists and scholars with the purpose of putting ‘people from different places within the same space for a brief moment in time,’ and so reframing the narrative around place and its role in human connection and social interaction. Attendees heard stories from award-winning poets, literary translators, and novelists. People also tuned in to hear academics from around the world share their latest research on detention, displacement, and disappearance.

“It felt to me more than just a conference. It was a community of belonging and sharing, and it was wonderful to be able to partake in its mission.” (Follow the Sun Participant)

Follow the Sun wanted to create, more than just a conference, an opportunity for people to engage in a new way. With Covid-19 halting many plans, especially events, we wanted to take the ‘online conference’ to a new level and make it international by running through different time zones from the South West of England to the South West of India. Events occurred all through the day and night, regardless of country, enabling people to engage from anywhere.

“Transnational concepts were very much the focus of the Conference and my thoughts on language, identity and the concept of nationality were expanded, with different cultural perspectives. I gained a deeper understanding of transnationalism and diaspora, a deeper basis for anti-racist practice. I don't think I would have come across so much information on these topics anywhere else.” (Follow the Sun Participant)

Before arriving at this blend of pre and post-pandemic norms, during the world's various lockdowns, isolation and its contingent sense of loneliness were a major concern. With the world suddenly having shrunk down to four walls, we were challenged to maintain our relationships with loved ones, as well as with the wider world. One of the main ways people sought to preserve these connections was to create alternative, online communities. These communities, whilst at the time serving more as a proxy — as we waited for the world to resume its standard format — have since become a huge part of how we live, how we seek out new opportunities, how we access education, or look after mental and physical health.

Another example of a writing community is The Daily Haiku, which was set up by Amanda White. This project involved a collaboration with Bambo Soyinka and the team at Paper Nations on The Great Margin — an interactive project that took the form of a series of poetry films, conversations and field notes about what it means to be part of a literary community during a period of mass isolation.

In The Daily Haiku: Introduction, White writes about how the project came about, and its aims and values, and we hear from contributors around the world, taking us from rural Cornwall to Tasmania and back around again. The 10,000+ group encompasses a great variety of people from different disciplines and walks of life, but they share a sense of what the project has brought them — both personally and creatively — and how it has contributed to their wellbeing during a highly challenging time.

The individuals who make up The Daily Haiku would most likely have never met one another, nor perhaps have awakened (or reawakened) an interest in haiku and creative practice if it weren’t for the pandemic, reminding us all that — no matter how unwelcome — sorrow sometimes bears its own gifts.

For this special edition of Transnational Literature we have sought to reflect on and develop this ethos of connectivity as part of our ongoing project to facilitate creative dialogues between writers and readers in the South West of England and a wider global community. If you have enjoyed this section and would like to continue the conversation then please connect to us and share your stories on social media (@centretrace, @TNLit and

Join our Community

If you've enjoyed what you have read and would like to work with us to develop the future of Transnational Literature then the following opportunities are available.

This year we expanded the journal to include new sections on poetry from Kenya, and writers from the South West of England. For the next edition, we are keen to hear from authors or editors who would like to curate a section on literature or poetry emerging from the area in which they live, or who would like to facilitate a creative conversation between two or more places.

We are also seeking to expand our multimedia approach to journal publication, and to experiment more with the inclusion of video and audiovisual content. If you would like to help us to develop a media rich approach to the journal then do get in touch! We are looking for podcasters and media makers with a background in creative or editorial video.

Finally, we have just launched a new ‘distance learning’ PhD with an emphasis on Storytelling across borders. Find out how to apply to the StoryFoundry PhD here.