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Posts Tagged ‘PEN’

Report from PEN’s Silenced Writers Event

Hu Shigen.JPG

Jessica Rotondi from St. Martin’s Minotaur Publicity department was volunteering at the PEN event for Silenced Writers and offers this report of what happened Thursday evening, complementing our earlier report from Amanda ReCupido:

At PEN’s “Bringing Down the Great Firewall of China: Silenced writers speak on the eve of the Olympics,” prominent PEN members Rick Moody, Francine Prose, Paris Review editor Philip Gourevitch and others came together to give voice to the works of leading dissidents and writers imprisoned by the Chinese government. The near-capacity crowd in Tishman auditorium also got to hear the voice of one particularly ardent audience member…

The evening’s moment of truth came when dramatist Edward Albee took the stage, drawing a parallel between two countries that he felt suppressed their citizen’s freedom of speech: “The United States of America, and the Peoples Republic of China.” A conspicuous latecomer, sensing that the moment was ripe to test this statement, pumped his fist and shouted: “Long live the People’s Republic of China! Long burn the Olympic torch!”

Albee attempted a dialogue with the protester (after all, the evening was about giving voice to the silenced), but when the latter’s end devolved into ever-louder chants of “Long live the People’s Republic of China! Long burn the Olympic torch!” and “PEN is CIA!” he was escorted outside of the auditorium, where he was allowed to continue his protest.

Albee didn’t miss a beat: “I’m so glad I live in a country where people are allowed to say exactly what they feel.” After the applause subsided, he continued his reading of Shen Noulian’s “Nightmare.”

The heart of the evening was garnering support for the over 40 writers and journalists currently held in Chinese prisons for various attacks on their freedom of speech. Hu Shigen’s “How Big a Character is Xin” spoke for many of the silenced. The piece ends with the author in a prison cell, dreaming of letters from all over the world falling towards him like snowflakes. In the dream, he tries to open the letters, but finds they are blank.

Chen Pokong, in his message from the Independent Chinese PEN Center, urged the outside world not to turn their backs on the struggle for freedom of speech in China once the Olympic athletes have returned home. Members of the audience received a set of ten postcards pre-addressed to imprisoned writers, printed with the phrase “you are not forgotten.”

Pictured above: Hu Shigen from PEN American Center

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Obligatory Padma Lakshmi-Salman Rushdie Divorce Post

It’s the day before July 4th, my brain is inching ever so close to burnoutmini-vacation and I guess it’s only fair to report that Booker Prize-winning author, PEN president and former frequenter of safe houses Salman Rushdie and his fourth wife, TOP CHEF hostess Padma Lakshmi, are getting a divorce after three years of marriage.

In a statement from Rushdie’s spokeswoman, the Wylie Agency‘s Jin Auh, issued yesterday, Rushdie said that he “has agreed to divorce his wife, Padma Lakshmi, because of her desire to end their marriage” and requests that “the media respect his privacy at this difficult time”. No word on respecting Lakshmi’s privacy, though her spokesperson hasn’t issued a statement and it seems she’s moved on pretty well already.

Prose President of PEN American Center

The Associated Press reports that Francine Prose, most recently the author of A CHANGED MAN and READING LIKE A WRITER, is expected to be named the new president of PEN‘s American Center when U.S. members gather March 19 for their annual meeting. She would succeed historian Ron Chernow, who declined to seek re-election, citing personal reasons. Prose is a longtime PEN member and advocate who is running unopposed for president, a one-year term for which she receives no salary.

“One of the exciting things to me is that I think even though many people and most writers know about PEN, I think there’s only a vague idea of what PEN actually does,” she said to the AP in a recent telephone interview, listing many programs, including “Freedom to Write,” which supports writers who face persecution or imprisonment. “PEN saves lives. I can’t think of anything more important.” Author Sidney Offit, who headed the PEN nomination committee, said Prose was an obvious choice, respected as a writer and as a colleague, dedicated to the work of PEN and willing to listen to others. “She brings not only collegiality and familiarity, but a willingness to do it, a passion. … Writers do not receive ego satisfaction by titles, being president of something. Most writers are almost totally focused on the distinction of their books.”