To Speak Europe in Different Languages: Winner and Shortlist

Hybrid and Collective Writing Competition


The “To Speak Europe in Different Languages” award went to Desta Haile for York to Teheran.

“History often forgets personal diaries. Using her aunt’s diary with its extensive and detailed stories, Desta Haile revisits the days and places her aunt traveled. In the process, she forms a bridge between the past and the present and examines questions of migration and freedom that we all continue to ask today. Her approach is multi-faceted, merging the physicality of the handwritten paper, boarding pass, train ticket, and photographs with evocative and powerful writing. Poetic and insightful, York to Tehran encompasses different genres, images and collective writing to re-define what it means to speak Europe in another language.”

Bangkok-born Desta Hailé is a British-Eritrean vocalist and educator. She is the Creative Director of Languages through Music and co-founder of Sisters Only Language Summit. She holds an MA in Black British Writing from Goldsmiths, University of London.

The prize was awarded by jury members Sumia Jaama, Mihret Kebede, Maaza Mengiste, Shadi Rohana and Abraham T. Zere.


The shortlist included:

Souhail Chichah, Prendre langue [Language: French]

Lidija Dimkovska, Кога заминав од „Карл Либкнехт“ [Language: Macedonian]

Asmaa Jama, Africa Is the Land of Wide Empty Spaces [Language: English/Somali]

Yohanes Molla, መጀመሪያ ቃል ነበረ… [Language: Amharic]


The award ceremony took place on September 18, 2020, at “Babel. Festival of literature and translation”, Bellinzona, Switzerland.

The winner received 2,000 Euros.



European history is made of constant flows of people, crossings, fragmentations, the digging of trenches as well as of tunnels. Most of what’s European is a mix resulting from such exchanges. Yet, nativism and identity-driven polarisations are on the rise.

Compared to ethnic, religious or class-related divides, language seems to be less controversial. People claim to belong to one language, when in reality many are exposed to local or oral dimensions as well as, in migrations, to language as revival or survival. In many cases, the relationship with the mother tongue is ambiguous.

It is therefore intriguing to consider the lack of clear-cut divisions between languages, and to explore hybridisation as opposed to purity, nativity or hierarchy: hybridisation between languages, between written and oral forms, between genres, between the norm and the exception. The language of Europe is translation, and hybrid are its dialects.


Specimen. The Babel Review of Translations, in collaboration with the Asmara-Addis Literary Festival (In Exile), and thanks to the support of the European Cultural Foundation, launched To Speak Europe in Different Languages. Hybrid and collective writing competition.

This prize aims at recognising the wounds and wonders of language, in order to endorse and enhance the border-crossing, category-defying qualities of our contemporary world.

To Speak Europe in Different Languages. Hybrid and collective writing competition prompts every speaker to be part of a linguistic minority: we did this by inviting people to feel entitled to their linguistic localism or personal idiolect, and at the same time to connect with those who live very different lives and yet might share similar doubts and gifts.

Only the multiplication of minorities can form a true majority.


The prize is run by Eritrean-Ethiopian-British novelist, Sulaiman Addonia, founder of the nomadic Asmara-Addis Literary Festival (In Exile). The judging panel for the inaugural prize is composed of five writers who embody, in different ways, the prize’s ethos. The jury’s verdict is final and unobjectionable.

For updates and info, follow us on our social channels: FacebookInstagramTwitter

This prize is made possible thanks to the support of: European Cultural Foundation, Pro Helvetia


Pro Helvetia Logo


Close Language
Close Language
Add Bookmark