News and Events

2022: On Hiatus

Adnan Kurtagic continues to volunteer with the Red Cross working with migrants in Bihac, Bosnia. Tom Simpson continues to teach about genocide prevention and human rights at Philips Exeter. We have heard from the Mennonite Center in Molochansk, Ukraine with updates on the situation with the war and our hearts are broken for everyone there and in Zaporizhia. The situation continues to be tense in Bosnia-Herzegovina with ongoing pressures from Nationalist and Fascist threats, but like Ukraine the people continue to live with courage in resistance to the forces of death and destruction.

2021: a Year of transitions and transformation

 2021 brought some relief and hope after a year of lockdown as more and more people around the world get vaccinated. Heather derr-Smith has been working on her MSW (Master of Social Work) at the University of Iowa and taking courses in Nonprofit Management to better implement the mission and vision of Cuvaj se. 

Adnan, our field director in Bihac, Bosnia continues to work for the Red Cross in migrant camps around Bihac canton as he finished his graduate degree in English Literature with an emphasis on research and translation.

Tom Simpson continues to teach Human Rights, Genocide Studies, Human Rights, Ethics, and Existentialism at Philips Exeter Academy and has been busy supporting the work of actvists in Bosnia-Herzegovina as they combat genocide-denialism and nationalism. 



The 2020 Year end wrap up of accomplishments.

Lets celebrate Cuvaj se board, staff, and volunteers!


First up is our beautiful Velid Beganovic Borjen:


January: – Became Guest Editor of Palette Poetry and Frontier Poetry magazines (responsible for editorial feedback letters)
February: – Published the poem “Cabo da Roca, Portugal” with the IceFloe Press within their online anthology #Geographies (LINK: )
April: – Published a series of paintings entitled “Enter the Quiet”, one of which was used also for Cover Art of the same issue 17 of High Shelf. (LINK: )


May: – Published the poem “Our Own Plague” with the magazine From Whispers to Roars, as part of Week 5 of their Quarantine Tales series (LINK, requires some scrolling: )
         – Was a finalist in the regional competition organised by the publisher Treci Trg from Belgrade, in the category “First Book of Prose”. The book did not win, but the reading did receive the audience award – a promotion during the Belgrade Book and Poetry Festival. (LINK to the reading in Bosnian: )
         – Did a reading of one of my poems in Bosnian, “Vanredne vijesti” as part of the 40-day series of quarantine readings organised by the Museum of Literature and Performing Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The series will be archived permanently by the Museum itself. (FB LINK: )
June: – Published the postcard poem “What You Are Left With” with Rattle, in Issue 68 – Postcard Poems (LINK to the online version published in July: )
          – Published part of my doctoral research, the paper “‘God Damn This War’: Virginia Woolf’s Struggle for Peace between the Wars” with E-rea: Revue électronique d’études sur le monde anglophone at the Aix-Marseille University in France (LINK: )
August: – Published a series of small postcard paintings, “Postcards to Friends” in NEMA magazine (LINK: )
             – Published a short story in Bosnian, “Dvije nijanse plave” En. “Two Shades of Blue”, written in 2010, resurrected by Strane as part of their “Short Story Summer” series (LINK:  )
September: – Published the poem “Salthill Beach, Galway” in the inaugural issue of The Adriatic (LINK to issue, p. 8: )
November: – Participated in the online edition of the Belgrade Book and Poetry Festival with a pre-recorded reading of the short story “Kome cvate magnolija” En. “For Whom the Magnolia Tree Blooms”, from the manuscript which was the finalist of the Treci trg competition (LINK: )
               – Published a series of paintings entitled “Somewhere Ahead of Myself on the Road” in Issue 10 of Parentheses Journal (LINK: )
December: – Published a series of b/w photographs in volume 7 of Deracine magazine (LINK, click for PDF: )



The May 2019 Poetry of Possibilities Tour has come to an end. It was a beautiful time sharing poetry with students from all over Bosnia-Herzegovina. You can read more at the Project’s website:








Cuvaj se and Heather Derr-Smith will be leading poetry workshops in several cities in the balkans and Central Europe May 5-June 6, 2019.

May 13th, 3-6, Tuzla, American Corners, Mihajla i zivka Crnogorcevica 7, hosted by U.S. Embassy.

Heather Derr-Smith will facilitate poetry workshops free and open to the public. All writers, poets, students of English language or English or World literature, American Studies, American culture,  or anyone interested in Cross-cultural connections. We will be looking at poems by Jericho Brown, Gabrielle Calvacoressi, and Ilya Kaminsky as well as poetry from the Balkans and will do our own creative writing exercises.

English proficiency is recommended as readings and discussion will be in English. Participants are encouraged to bring their own poems or excerpts of fiction to share, but it is not required.  Participants will have the opportunity to submit finished work for continued one-on-one mentoring with Heather Derr-Smith and possible publication.

Workshops will be a space for strength-based support, encouragement, joy and deepening connections between the community in Tuzla and the United States.
We will have an assortment of fresh fruit, bread, and cheese and drinks to offer.

May 24th Banja Luka

The American Corner Banja Luka and United States Embassy to Bosnia and Herzegovina invite you to attend “Poetry Workshops with Heather Derr-Smith.”

Heather Derr-Smith will facilitate creative writing workshops free and open to the public. All writers, poets, students of English or literature, and anyone interested in cross-cultural connections is invited to attend. Heather Derr-Smith is a poet with four books, most recently Thrust, winner of the Lexi Rudnitsky Prize and published at Persea Books. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has led poetry workshops around the world for decades.

The event will take place Friday, May 24, 2019, from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM in the American Corner Banja Luka, Kralja Petra I Karadjordjevica 115, 78000 Banja Luka and will be hosted by the United States Embassy Bosnia and Herzegovina.

English proficiency is recommended as readings and discussion will be in English. We will be looking at work by U.S. poets such as Ilya Kaminsky, Kaveh Akbar, Maggie Smith, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, and Jericho Brown while also sharing the work of poets and fiction writers from Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, and the region. Participants are encouraged to bring their own poems or excerpts of fiction to share, but it is not required. We will be doing some creative writing exercises together in class based on the work we have read. Participants will have the opportunity to submit finished work for continued one-on-one mentoring with Heather Derr-Smith and possible publication.

Workshops will be a space for strength-based support, encouragement, joy and deepening connections between the community in Banja Luka and the United States.
We will have an assortment of fresh fruit, bread, and cheese and drinks to offer.
You are kindly requested to confirm your attendance at by May 22, 2019.

LGB/Trans/Genderqueer Workshops at Philips Exeter Academy

This was Heathen/Heather Derr-Smith’s second visit to Philips Exeter Academy. s(he) visited Mercy Carbonell’s poetry class and had a workshop luncheon in the Latin room for GSA students and the heads of all-gender/open gender dorms. Derr-Smith left packets of poems and interviews by and with TC Tolbert, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Oliver Bendorf, Donika Kelly, and Vanessa Angelica Villarreal as well as several books for the dorms and all of which the library said will order extra copies of: Troubling the Line edited by TC Tolbert and Trace Peterson, as well as Rocket Fantastic by Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Beast Meridian by Vanessa Angelica Villarreal, Justin Phillip Reed’s Indecency, TC Tolbert’s Gephyromania, and Donika Kelly’s Bestiary.  Order these books, read these poets, and visit their websites!

Deep thanks and gratitude to Tom Simpson, Mercy Carbonell, and the students, faculty and staff at Philips Exeter Academy.










February Update

Friday, February 15th was a special day for Cuvaj se with two workshops at Walnut Creek Campus in West Des Moines. Walnut Creek is an alternative school serving youth who want a different kind of high school experience other than the traditional one.  Some students are struggling with mental health issues, some have experienced trauma, all are looking for a sense of community and connection that might be harder for some students to find in a larger high school setting.  My son Owen attends Walnut Creek and he loves the school so much for the close relationships he has with his teachers.

Owen helped facilitate workshops with our guest poet, Carlos Rodriguez. Carlos is a soon-to-be graduate of Grand View University with a degree in English and Writing and will be going on for his PhD next. He is from Puerto Rico and experienced catastrophic personal losses in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. He shared with students poems about that trauma and grief, losing family members and loved ones. He has been living on the mainland while attending college, but goes back to the island periodically.  Cuvaj se would love to be able to do workshops in Puerto Rico at some point in the future. We will see what possibilities may open up.

Carlos’ kind, generous, and open presence meant so much to the students and the Creative Writing teacher, Sandra Abbott. All of the teachers and administrators at Walnut Creek care deeply for their students and are committed to seeing every single person as an individual worth dignity and respect. Sandra is truly committed to the well-being of her students and their continued growth. She provides a safe and supportive space for students to learn about the craft of creative writing and in the process continue to find healing from trauma or to simply explore their own developing sense of self. She expressed how moved she was by Carlos’ life and work, and his visit meant a great deal to her.

Though the main mission of Cuvaj se is to support writers in conflict zones and post-conflict zones, we also want to engage with our local communities and have an impact in places where we are invited in and can partner with our own schools and local organizations in Iowa. Our workshops at Walnut Creek were in coordination with Please Pass the Love, an outstanding mental health advocacy organization that does so much great work in Des Moines area schools. Though Poet Heather Derr-Smith has been leading trauma-informed workshops for decades, Cuvaj se is a small organisation, just getting started as a non-profit, so being able to partner with well-established organizations like Please Pass the Love is one of our goals for the coming years in learning how non-profits work and expanding our outreach.

We had donations specifically designated for local area workshops, so we were so happy to be able to pay Carlos Rodriguez a small grant/honorarium to support him as a student and writer.

Deep Thanks to Carlos, Sandra Abbott, Walnut Creek, Jennifer Ulie Wells, and Please Pass the Love.







January Update

In late January, early February, our media director, Tom Simpson started a new venture called Cards for Humanity. If your order his beautiful handmade cards he will donate the proceeds to the work of Cuvaj se. You can find his cards at our bookstore page.





We also received some more donations designated for Cuvaj se’s support of Prometei Rehabilitation Center in Zaporizhia, Ukraine, so we were able to give over $1,000 total to help out during the hard winter months. If you are interested in donating there are so many ways to give, just choose your amount and write us a note if you want to designate the funds for any specific project we have. You can ask for a book or a packet of cards–there are lost of ways to give here:

November and December 2018 Update

Cuvaj se was able to offer a grant of $500.00 in November to the Prometei Rehabilitation Centre in Zaporizhia, Ukraine to help with their needs for the winter. And we followed up with another 300.00 gift. These funds were raised entirely through donations and every penny went to the centre directly. Prometei supports children with disabilities and their families. This time of year can be hard with sporadic electricity and unreliable heat. Right now the region is under continued pressure from Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine and the situation is precarious. Cuvaj se’s director, Heather Derr-Smith visited Prometei in November 2017 and saw first hand the incredible work staff and volunteers were doing to serve hundreds of children and their families. They offer schooling, shelter, clothing, counseling, occupational therapy and more. You can give money to support the work of Prometei at our donations page here:


Čuvaj Se, a nonprofit literary human rights organization based in the United States, is delighted to announce that it has awarded its first annual Excellence in Literature Award to Amila Kahrović Posavljak of Bosnia-Herzegovina for her novel Smrtova Djeca(“Death’s Children”). With its partnerships and grants, Čuvaj Se celebrates emerging authors who exhibit literary brilliance and a spirit of fierce, free expression. This award, which comes with a cash prize, recognizes the distinctive contribution that Smrtova Djeca has made to the literature of marginalized communities and to the memory of war and aggression against Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s. The award will also support the translation of Smrtova Djeca into English and the placement of the translated edition in U.S. bookstores. Congratulations, Amila!


Update on Asylum/Refugee/Migration assustance

We are so thankful for everyone who donated to our Go-Fund Me for a young student in need of asylum. There was such a huge outpouring of love and support. We raised over $3,000.00 and he is now in a safe situation with a work permit and able to support himself.  He says, “I want to thank each and every one of you for making this past year possible. I have had the chance to acclimate back into American society. Things have definitely changed since I was here in 2015. I’ve also had the chance to make strides towards my long-term stability. Without you it would have been impossible to survive.”  We wish him so much love, strength, and continued freedom and safety in the years ahead.


Cuvaj se will be heading to Sarajevo in October to do interviews with Bosnian writers, meet with TPOFoundation one of our favorite organizations doing incredible work with gender equality and education in BiH.  Cuvaj se and TPO did some collaborative workshops in 2017 on teacher curriculum in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and next week there will be a Women’s Symposium. And most exciting of all, Cuvaj se will be awarding a grant to a Sarajevan writer. We will share more details during the week!