Into the oppressor’s mind

Lt. Major Cecilia Diaconeasa was a Cold War secret police informant who in March 1983, several weeks after the birth of her baby daughter, was assigned to extract confessions from a woman suspected of collaborating in a public political protest, and to prevent her from committing ‘unthinkable acts’.  Her ‘target,’ my mother, was under arrest in the infectious ward of the district’s children’s hospital with her own new born son, who was struggling for his life. The talk will discuss working with Cold War surveillance family archives and the process of getting inside the Lt.’s mind, in order to understand the narrative of oppression. In the course of locating the appropriate form which could transform the historical documents and the life experiences into literature, I found myself asking deeper questions about what constitutes literary language. 

Carmen Bugan, a George Orwell Prize Fellow, is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Lilies from America, a Poetry Society Special Commendation. Her memoir, Burying the Typewriter, called by the Sunday Times ‘a modern classic,’ won the Bread Loaf Nonfiction Prize and was a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week. Her poems have been anthologized in the Penguin’s Poems for Life and Joining Music with Reason among others, and her work has been translated into several languages. She wrote a monograph on Seamus Heaney and East European Poetry in Translation: Poetics of Exile and reviews regularly for Harvard Review Online. Bugan was the 2018 Helen DeRoy Professor in Honors at the University of Michigan and teaches at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop in Manhattan. She appears on current affairs and history programmes on the BBC, NPR, Monocle, and ABC. Bugan has a DPhil in English literature from Balliol College, Oxford University. Her book of essays, Poetry and the Language of Oppression, will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2021.