Found Poems from the Special Court for Sierra Leone

Shanee Stepakoff

ISBN 9781684483105
The Griot Project Book Series

Sierra Leone's devastating civil war barely caught the attention of Western media, but it raged on for over a decade, bringing misery to millions of people in West Africa from 1991 to 2002. The atrocities committed in this war and the accounts of its survivors were duly recorded by international organizations, but they run the risk of being consigned to dusty historical archives.

Derived from public testimonies at a UN-backed war crimes tribunal in Freetown, this remarkable poetry collection aims to breathe new life into the records of Sierra Leone's civil war, delicately extracting heartbreaking human stories from the morass of legal jargon. By rendering selected trial transcripts in poetic form, Shanee Stepakoff finds a novel way to communicate not only the suffering of Sierra Leone's people, but also their courage, dignity, and resilience. Her use of innovative literary techniques helps to ensure that the voices of survivors are not forgotten, but rather heard across the world.

This volume also includes an introduction that explores how the genre of "found poetry" can serve as a uniquely powerful means through which writers may bear witness to atrocity. This book's unforgettable excavation and shaping of survivor testimonies opens new possibilities for speaking about the unspeakable.

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"At once astonishing and devastating, these poems attest to poetry's ability to bear witness to atrocity, while the poignant cover image by Liberian American artist and war refugee Papay Solomon reminds us of those whose voices have been silenced for too long."
-Rebecca Ruth Gould, July 2021

"The poems in this collection stand as monument to remembrance and commemoration, a stay against oblivion for the people of Sierra Leone whose lives were marked by the civil conflict of 1991-2002. They are a significant contribution to the literature of that country and of conflict."
-Aminatta Forna, author of Happiness

"At once unsparing and informed by a deep tenderness and care, this darkly luminous work implicitly interrogates the nature of authorship and poetic form, and like all seminal works, helps to question, expand, and re-define their boundaries."
- Laurie Sheck, Pulitzer Prize nominated author of The Willow Grove

"These 'found poems' are unquestionably harrowing to read and painful to absorb. Eight survivors of the murderous cruelty and atrocities committed during the civil war in Sierra Leone tell their own stories, and in their own words. Every one of these words is drawn from transcripts of the war crimes tribunals that came with the end of that war. Shanee Stepakoff - a psychologist who has long worked with survivors of torture - brings to these transcript accounts her poet's sense of lineation, stanzaic structure, pauses, refrains, and repetitions. Thus, she creates a ceremonial space in which we as readers might begin to hear and bear witness to the unbearable degree of violence, suffering, and loss that these women and men endured."
- Fred Marchant, author of Said Not Said: Poems

"With this collection, Shanee Stepakoff finally breaks the veil of silence that surrounds the unspeakable horrors of Sierra Leone's long civil war. She has recomposed the official accounts to offer us both the intimacy and eternality of survivor stories."
- Remi Raji, author of A Harvest of Laughers

"The incredible horrors painfully recited herein . . . makes us wonder whether humans are really human. Shanee Stepakoff's documented testimonies illustrate the continuing crying need for effective international controls and binding laws to deter such atrocities everywhere."
- Benjamin Ferencz, investigator of Nazi war crimes after World War II and the last surviving prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials

About the author:

Shanee Stepakoff is a psychologist and human rights advocate with extensive experience in postwar settings. Her work has been published in edited books and in literary and scholarly journals. She holds a MFA from The New School and is completing a PhD in English at the University of Rhode Island in South Kingstown.

Distributed by Rutgers University Press

Cloth: $49.95, 9781684483112; PDF: $19.95, 9781684483143; EPUB: $19.95, 9781684483129


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