Narratives of Survival


The Voice of Witness project, founded by McSweeney’s Dave Eggers,  is a nonprofit that records the narratives of those who have survived harrowing experiences. The project was started after Dave came back from the Sudan, where he witnessed people trying to rebuild their lives after the civil war.

“Their collaboration led to What is the What, Eggers’ novel about Deng’s walk out of southern Sudan among hundreds of boys escaping the carnage of war. But it also led to something more.

On their journey back to Sudan, Eggers and Deng met three Dinka women who’d recently returned to Marial Bai after being enslaved for years in the north during the civil war. “None of the three spoke Dinka anymore,” Eggers remembers. Losing their language was only one way their identities had been erased. Their names had also been changed to Arabic ones. One of the women had left five children with her captor. The meeting haunted Eggers and Deng.

“What about them? What about their stories?” Eggers asked. “I guess what we both talked about a lot on that trip and afterwards was that his story wasn’t the only one that needed to be told.” What is the What would go on to become a best seller, but Eggers and Deng vowed to return to tell the stories of more survivors of Sudan’s civil war.”

Read the rest of the article over at the Smithsonian to find out what other projects the Voice of Witness is working on and more about how they started.

Ashley Perez lives, writes, and causes trouble in Los Angeles. She has a strong affinity for tattoos, otters, cat mystery books, and actual cats, but has mixed feelings about pants. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. She runs the literary site Arts Collide and does work of all varieties for Women Who Submit, Entropy, Jaded Ibis Press, and Why There Are Words. You can find her on Twitter at @ArtsCollide. More from this author →