The Library Harbors Exiles in Special Collections’ “Banned and Banished” Exhibit

This spring in the Library Atrium, Special Collections and Archives commemorates the 2,000th anniversary of the Roman poet Ovid’s death by showcasing the works of seven exiled authors through the centuries. The exhibition, entitled Banned and Banished: Ovid and 2,000 Years of Exile, explores the lives and works of Ovid, Dante Alighieri, Voltaire, Oscar Wilde, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, and Salman Rushdie who, fleeing from war and tyranny, facing persecution for political beliefs or sexual orientation, or punished for speaking out against oppression or ignorance, were forced to abandon their homelands and seek refuge elsewhere. 

“Ménade” by Léon Bakst (1866-1934), a Russian artist who fled to Paris to escape restrictions placed on the movement of Jews in Imperial Russia. From “The Book of the Homeless,” edited by Edith Wharton to support refugees of World War I, New York, 1916.

In selecting authors to feature in the exhibition, we found that some of the most important works of literature were written in exile or were so contentious that they led to the banishment of their authors. From Ovid’s “carmen et error,” the poem and mistake which he says caused Augustus to banish him from Rome, to Dante’s Divine Comedy, the greatest work of Italian literature composed after the great poet’s political exile from Florence, to Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses that provoked a religious edict for his death and forced him into hiding, the works on display represent expatriated authors who used their writing as a means of escape, of bringing light to their plights, challenging authority, and reconnecting with their nations of origin.

With the recent government Muslim ban and proposed border wall, we felt that while these authors are remote in terms of time, their struggle is sadly present and pressing. We feature these works not only for their literary merit and historical significance but also to present the library as a space where exiles, refugees, and those seeking solace and knowledge are supported.


Exhibit curated by Postgraduate Fellow for Special Collections & Archives, Mikaela Taylor.
Also on display in the Davis Family Library: Beast, Animal, Brute, an exhibit exploring our enduring fascination with animals, curated by Rebekah Irwin, with research assistance by Sam Cartwright, ‘18 and exhibition design assistance by Danielle Rougeau.

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