PEN on Twitter

6

Reckoning With Torture

Before the September 11 attacks, the United States condemned torture, protested secret tribunals, decried disappearances, and challenged secret and arbitrary detentions. But a growing public record of official documents and testimonies makes undeniably clear that prisoners were tortured, abused, and in some cases even killed in U.S. custody since 9/11, and that officials at the very highest levels of our government authorized and encouraged the mistreatment.

Although the record of abuse is growing clearer, the Obama administration—by fighting to keep secret documents that would allow the public to better understand the torture program, and seeking to extinguish lawsuits brought by torture survivors—has gradually become an obstacle to accountability for torture. The U.S.’s failure to address and redress torture undermines the rule of law in the United States and weakens our ability to encourage and spread support for the rule of law internationally.

In an effort to build support for accountability for torture, PEN American Center and the ACLU have developed a public education program that draws attention to the torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. custody. Reckoning with Torture: Memos and Testimonies from the “War on Terror” delivers key facts of the torture program through dramatic readings of documents related to the torture program, combined with video testimonials from former Guantánamo detainees and artwork by artist Jenny Holzer that incorporates government torture records.

Help play a role in demanding meaningful accountability. Visit www.pen.org/reckoning

2

VIVA LA BELARUS FREE THEATER

Just weeks ago, members of the Belarus Free Theater were either in jail or in hiding. Concealing themselves in trucks and cars to dodge the KGB, they were able to make it to the U.S. for a widely praised, two-week run of their play Being Harold Pinter as part of the Under the Radar Festival in New York. Last Thursday, the company was joined at Le Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village for the PEN event “Viva the Belarus Free Theater” by Tom Stoppard, Billy Crudup, Margaret Colin, Iva Bittova, Don DeLillo, and E.L. Doctorow for an evening celebrating artistic freedom and courage in the face of Alexander Lukashenko’s latest crackdown following Belarus’s flawed December elections.

The evening began with a beautifully discordant musical performance by violinist and vocalist Iva Bittova, followed by acclaimed playwright Tom Stoppard’s reading of a letter of support written by actor Michael Douglas. Actor Michael Laurence read English translations of two poems by imprisoned Belarusian poet and opposition presidential candidate Vladimir Neklyaev. Actors Billy Crudup and Margaret Colin performed a short play written by Tom Stoppard in which a military interrogator schools a lawyer in the delicate art of word-play and creative censorship: “It’s not torture, it’s pizza.” And authors and PEN Members E.L. Doctorow and Don DeLillo took the stage to read passages from their novels City of God and Mao II, respectively.

No matter how star-studded the first half of the evening was, it was just a warm up to the raw power of the Belarus Free Theater’s performance of “Numbers,” in which five actors performed theatrical interpretations of a series of statistics projected on screens behind the stage: Number of modeling agencies cooperating with the Ministry of Culture to sell Belarusian young women into sexual slavery: 13; Percentage of babies born completely healthy: 2; Number of Belarusians suffering from mental disorders: 1 in 4.

It was a powerful performance made all the more real with the knowledge that earlier in the day, one of the actors in the troupe had received a singe-word text message from her husband. It read: “Arrested.” In total, more than 27 artists, journalist, and dissidents were arrested that Thursday in Belarus, and more than 600 since the December 19 elections, including former Belarusian PEN President Vladimir Neklyaev and PEN Members Pavel Severinets and Aleksandr Fiaduta. Larry Siems, PEN’s director of the Freedom to Write program, summed up the evening best with the following words:

The right of freedom of expression under international law is not just the right to speak and create freely in your own community; it also guarantees the right of all us to hear and to read and to listen to what someone is saying or creating anywhere in the world. When a Belarusian poet is silenced, it violates our right to hear her. When the Belarusian free theater is silenced, it violates our right to see them.

4
Jeanette Winterson
PEN American Center
On Faith & Reason at PEN World Voices


Twenty years ago I wrote a book called Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which is about being brought up in a family of Pentecostal evangelists—Christian fundamentalists. I was adopted by my parents who believed that God had led them to the orphanage and they had to choose me because I would grow up to be a missionary and save the world.

My mother didn’t want to send me to school and it was only when she was threatened with prison that she eventually did so. And she took me out of school as much as possible so that we could tour the seaside towns of the Northwest in a gospel tent, trying to convert the heathen. And this is probably better than high doing biology.

But my mother was terrified of any secular influences entering our lives. My father is illiterate and my mother used to read to us from the King James bible. Only six books were allowed in the house. The bible was one, and the other five were books about the bible.

She was once prevailed upon to read Jane Eyre to me when I was very small because she loved that book. It was a fully mysterious text to her and she never quite explained anything. She did read it to me, but in her version, Jane didn’t marry Mr. Rochester. She stayed with St. John Rivers, and they all lived happily ever after. And Mrs. Winterson simply read the text, turning the pages, without a pause, and made up her own Brontë. It was only later in life that I discovered this extraordinary betrayal.

My mother was terrified that books would fall into my hands. But it never occurred to her that I might fall into the books—that I myself might put myself inside them for safekeeping. 

And although in our house books weren’t allowed, because I had a job, I began to buy books with the money that I was earning and smuggle them in, secretly, and hide them under the bed. Now anybody with a single bed—standard size—and a  collection of paperbacks—standard size—will know that 77 per layer can be accommodated under the mattress. And this is what I did. 

Over time, my bed began to rise visibly. It was rather like the princess and the pea. And one  night when I was sleeping closer to the ceiling than to the floor, my mother came in because she had a suspicious nature and she saw a corner of the book poking out from under the counterpane and she tugged at it. And this was a disastrous choice because it was by D.H. Lawrence. And it was Women in Love.

Now, she knew that Lawrence was a Satanist an a pornographer, because my mother was an intelligent woman. She had simply barricaded books out of her life, and they had to be barricaded out of our lives. When challenged, with her defense she always used to say: “well, the trouble with a book is that you never know what’s in it until it’s too late.”

How true… .


Click here to listen to Jeanette Winterson’s full speech, and to hear Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith, Chinua Achebe, and other writers speak at this event. 

PEN Member Jeanette Winterson released her new memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? last month. She delivered this talk in 2006 at the PEN World Voice Festival of International Literature. PEN’s 2012 Festival will take place from April 30 through May 5. 

3

In Norway after two or three hours walking you come to the mountains. That is the best part of it, walking in the mountains with a lot of people in Gortex, and I come walking in my suit and always a white shirt and I walk really quick and I carry some whiskey and I smoke cigarettes. In Norway this is really radical.

Norwegian walker and writer Tomas Espedal reads from his book Tramp (Or the Art of Living a Wild and Poetic Life) at Cocktail Hour Reading, part of the 2011 PEN World Voices Festival.

PEN American Center today welcomed the news that Ragip Zarakolu, one of Turkey’s preeminent free expression champions, was among 15 freed from prison in Turkey pending trial, calling his release “a hopeful sign and a clear indication of the value of international attention and concern.” PEN cautioned, however, that Zarakolu still faces trial on charges that carry a heavy prison sentence and that scores of other writers and intellectuals remain imprisoned.
(via PEN American Center - April 10, 2012: Publisher and PEN Member Ragip Zarakolu Released in Turkey Pending Trial)

PEN American Center today welcomed the news that Ragip Zarakolu, one of Turkey’s preeminent free expression champions, was among 15 freed from prison in Turkey pending trial, calling his release “a hopeful sign and a clear indication of the value of international attention and concern.” PEN cautioned, however, that Zarakolu still faces trial on charges that carry a heavy prison sentence and that scores of other writers and intellectuals remain imprisoned.

(via PEN American Center - April 10, 2012: Publisher and PEN Member Ragip Zarakolu Released in Turkey Pending Trial)

2

As part of this year’s World Voices Festival, PEN teamed up with documentary poet, global labor activist, and 2010 Guggenheim Fellow Mark Nowak for a series of weekend poetry workshops with members of the Domestic Workers Union. The workshops will culminate during the festival in the group’s first public event on May 5 at the New School, which will feature a 10-minute documentary clip about the DWU workshops, readings by a number of the domestic workers participating in the sessions, and a public conversation with the audience.

(via PEN.org » Blog Archive Domestic Workers United Workshop - PEN.org)

3
Top PEN Prize to Honor Eskinder Nega, Jailed Ethiopian Journalist and Blogger
PEN American Center today named Eskinder Nega, a journalist and dissident blogger in Ethiopia, as the recipient of its 2012 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. Nega, a leading advocate for press freedom and freedom of expression in Ethiopia, was arrested on September 14, 2011, and is currently being tried under the country’s sweeping anti-terror legislation, which criminalizes any reporting deemed to “encourage” or “provide moral support” to groups and causes which the government considers to be “terrorist.” He could face the death penalty if convicted.
(via PEN American Center - April 12, 2012: Top PEN Prize to Honor Eskinder Nega, Jailed Ethiopian Journalist and Blogger)

Top PEN Prize to Honor Eskinder Nega, Jailed Ethiopian Journalist and Blogger

PEN American Center today named Eskinder Nega, a journalist and dissident blogger in Ethiopia, as the recipient of its 2012 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. Nega, a leading advocate for press freedom and freedom of expression in Ethiopia, was arrested on September 14, 2011, and is currently being tried under the country’s sweeping anti-terror legislation, which criminalizes any reporting deemed to “encourage” or “provide moral support” to groups and causes which the government considers to be “terrorist.” He could face the death penalty if convicted.

(via PEN American Center - April 12, 2012: Top PEN Prize to Honor Eskinder Nega, Jailed Ethiopian Journalist and Blogger)