UNO Welcomes Sri Lankan Journalist, Activist Through Fund

Sharmila Seyyid, an Artist Protection Fund fellow, will be working with the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s English department and Women and Gender Studies program while continuing her writing and international social justice work. (UNO)
University of Nebraska at Omaha

A Sri Lankan journalist, poet, and writer under threat of persecution and violence in her home country will continue her passionate work in a safer environment at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Sharmila Seyyid, an Artist Protection Fund fellow, has received international recognition for her dedication to addressing the socioeconomic vulnerability of women in Sri Lankan society through writing and activism. Her works center on the multiple burdens that Tamil-speaking Muslim women in Sri Lanka face, especially in the wake of the long Sri Lankan civil war. She also established Mantra Life, an organization seeking to help Sri Lankan women become financially independent.

Her first novel “Ummath: A Novel of Community and Conflict,” dissects the complex realities of extremism, nationalism, chauvinism, fundamentalism, and sexism that governed Sri Lanka during and after the war.

Sections of the novel question “purdah,” the seclusion of women from public observation by covering their faces and bodies. Such views have sparked controversy, leading to threats and online persecution so severe that her family believed that she had been killed.

Seyyid was in and out of exile in countries like India, Thailand, and Turkey while she applied for residencies. She was awarded a prestigious IIE-Artist Protection Fund Fellowship and placed in residence with UNO’s Leonard and Shirley Goldstein Center for Human Rights and UNO’s Sam and Frances Fried Holocaust and Genocide Academy. UNO’s International Programs office assisted in supporting Sharmila and her children as they settled in Omaha.

“The Artist Protection Fund supports threatened artists across métier and practice,” said Alison Russo, IIE-APF Senior Director. “We worked very closely with the dedicated team at the Goldstein Center and Fried Academy to successfully bring Sharmila — our first APF Fellow in residence at UNO — to Omaha and create an environment where her literary arts practice and family can thrive.”

At UNO, Seyyid will be working with the department of English and the Women and Gender Studies program while continuing her writing and international social justice work.

“I am very grateful to be here at UNO, as this university will provide me with many networking and research experiences that will allow me to pursue my dream,” Seyyid said.

Curtis Hutt and Mark Celinscak, executive directors of the GCHR and Fried Academy respectively, are excited to host Seyyid.

“It is our honor to support Sharmila Seyyid. Her courage and tireless efforts in defense of the rights of women and children is extraordinary,” Celinscak said.

This article was produced by the University of Nebraska at Omaha.


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