Proud to be from Pittsburgh: City of Asylum

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PITTSBURGH —

When Channel 11’s Peggy Finnegan visited Yaghoub Yadali, he was reading from his new novel, a book that he started in Iran, but couldn't finish there.

“Living in Iran as an artist could be harmful at any time,” he said.

The writer was arrested on a charge of offending Islam.

His book "The Rituals of Restlessness" depicted a love affair between a man and an ethnic woman.

“The court sentenced me to one year in prison,” said Yadali.

He is safe now, in Pittsburgh's North Side.

 The exiled writer's new temporary home is at City of Asylum, a non-profit that provides sanctuary, safety and support to endangered writers.

 “When you know someone is threatened, you know they must be saying something important when they are writing literature,” said Henry Reese.

Reese and his wife started City of Asylum to make sure voices aren't silenced.

The first writer to live here was poet Huang Xiang, of China, who was tortured and imprisoned and never allowed to publish.

“So when the government and city here welcomed him, he wanted to celebrate and do something public,” said Reese.”So he put his poetry on the outside of the house! “

Every city of Asylum house has a story to tell.

The Winged House is named for the sculpture "Sprititual Wings." 

If you look at the door, you will find the writings of Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole, who wrote about how to keep his mind sharp during two years in solitary confinement.

There is Jazz House, named for Jazz musician Oliver Lake, who supports the project, and Burma House, painted by the husband of a Burmese writer who stayed here.

You think of what great works of literature may not get created if we don't provide this sanctuary,” said Reese.

The City of Asylum provides a new home and a new chapter for endangered writers.

City of Asylum started in 2007 with one house. Now there are four.  So far, 5 writers have called City of Asylum home.

Founder Henry Reese said they have all done very well adjusting to life in the United States and all are continuing to write and publish their work.