Page 2 of 3

2019 PEN World Voices Festival: Open Secrets

Keynote Speaker, Arundhati Roy (b. 1961), 1997 Man Booker Prize-winner Arundhati Roy (The God of Small Things, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, My Seditious Heart). She will deliver this year’s Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture.

“Writers imagine that they cull stories from the world. I’m beginning to believe that vanity makes them think so. That it’s actually the other way around. Stories cull writers from the world. Stories reveal themselves to us. The public narrative, the private narrative—they colonize us. They commission us. They insist on being told. Fiction and nonfiction are only different techniques of story telling. For reasons that I don’t fully understand, fiction dances out of me, and nonfiction is wrenched out by the aching, broken world I wake up to every morning.” Arundhati Roy in her speech Come September, Lensic Performing Arts Center, September 29,2009



On April 11 PEN America announced the full lineup of events for the 2019 PEN World Voices Festival: Open Secrets (May 6-12), focusing on the dissolving boundary between the public and the private in the literary, cultural, social, and political realms. The genres of literary memoir and personal testimony have flourished, in part through increased digital avenues for storytelling, revelation, and exposé. Movements like #MeToo and continuing reports of abuse within religious organizations have demonstrated the political velocity of deeply personal revelations, illuminating suppressed experiences and forcing society-wide reckonings. Personal narratives and individual stories have become catalysts for social change. At the same time, the digital revolution has enabled political micro-targeting and the leveraging of personal data in insidious ways that reshape attitudes, buying habits, and even democratic decision-making. In the seventy-plus events comprising the fifteenth anniversary of the Festival, New York and its most vital cultural institutions—from the Apollo Theater, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and Nuyorican Poets Café in Manhattan, to Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, to BAAD! The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance—will teem with stirring ideas and provocative debates. Fiction and nonfiction writers, poets, translators, journalists, thinkers, artists, and activists will gather to unpack the issues around what we withhold and what we reveal, and the opportunities and dangers inherent in the rapid reconfiguring of the public and the private.

“The voluntary surrender of privacy in return for convenience, access, and human connection is fast reshaping expectations of what remains personal,” says PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “As digital technologies steamroll forward, we aim through this Festival to hit the pause button to examine why these borders are being redrawn and how writers, creators, thinkers, and individuals can influence what aspects of our lives remain truly our own as well as how to shape narratives once they enter the public sphere.”

“PEN World Voices offers an annual occasion for writers, artists, and intellectuals to pool resources for a weeklong exchange of creativity and ideas. In our era of global and national discord, such collaboration is essential—both as a refuge and a way forward.  We hope that this year’s exceptional lineup, applied to a timely theme, will prove revelatory for participants and audience alike,” says PEN America President Jennifer Egan.

Roy delivering a talk “Can We Leave the Bauxite in the Mountain? Field Notes on Democracy” at the Harvard Kennedy School on April 1, 2010

“Presenting Arundhati Roy as the keynote speaker of this festival is nothing short of a dream come true for me,” says Chip Rolley, Director of the PEN World Voices Festival. “Throughout her illustrious writing career, encompassing fiction of arresting lyricism and essays of incisive urgency, Arundhati Roy has been one of the most valiant defenders of the rights of both the individual and the collective. She caps a week of events that confront our society’s fast-evolving approach to personal narrative, exposition, and exposé. Our participants include some of the most potent exemplars of how social norms governing gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality have been up-ended by the sheer force of personal stories entering the public sphere. The festival offers audiences a ringside seat in witnessing the power of narrative in changing the world.”

New platforms of communication have enabled writers to discover the mobilizing power of their stories; simultaneously, exciting new literary voices have emerged, and established authors have been emboldened to explore highly personal territory. A signature Festival event of powerful personal testimony, It Happened to Me (May 11), hosted by The Guardian USopinion editor Amana Fontanella Khan, brings together authors Édouard Louis (Who Killed My Father), Scholastique Mukasonga (The Barefoot Woman), Pajtim Statovci (Crossing: A Novel), and Grace Talusan (The Body Papers), journalist and filmmaker Shiori Ito (Black Box), and poets Romeo Oriogun and Paul Tran. In Voices of the Silenced (May 11), Executive Director of Words Without Borders Karen M. Phillips will moderate a discussion with Scholastique Mukasonga, Idra Novey (Those Who Knew), and Marcia Tiburi (Feminismo em comum: Para todas, todes e todos) about placing survivors of assault at the center of works they’ve written. In Intimate Terrorism, on May 10, Shiori Ito, poet Gerður Kristný (Bloodhoof), authors Miriam Toews (Women Talking) and Anne Summers (Unfettered and Alive: A Memoir), and journalist Rachel Louise Snyder (No Visible Bruises) will speak of why we need to bring stories of violence against women into the public realm, and how they’ve done this in their own writings. In Secrets and Lives, memoirist Dani Shapiro (Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love) and novelist and filmmaker Bridgett M. Davis (The World According to Fannie Davis) will share the extraordinary secrets that defined their families (May 12). Tara Westover’s 2018 memoir Educated described her harrowing childhood in a survivalist Mormon family in Idaho—isolated from society as they prepared for the world’s end—and her escape into the halls of Cambridge and Harvard; she will tell that story in The Cost of an Education, with author Min Jin Lee (May 6). Édouard Louis (The End of Eddy), Carolin Emcke (How We Desire), Masha Gessen (The Future is History), and choreographer Bill T. Jones (Story/Time: The Life of an Idea) will join in The Laws of Desire—a revealing discussion on sexuality and gender—and talk about how desire evolves beyond borders of orientation and can, over time, reveal its multi-faceted realities (May 6).

Open Secrets will also include those who have boldly undertaken the dangerous—and monumentally important—work of exposing the abuses they themselves have experienced at the hands of governments. Thirty years after the Tiananmen Square Protests, the Festival will feature Rise Up: Tiananmen’s Legacy of Freedom and Democracy, a celebration of the dauntless courage and youthful defiance that challenged China’s authoritarian establishment, spotlighting and honoring those who continue to fight for freedom around the world today. Leading social justice advocate Reverend William Barber II and activist artists Fogo Azul, Sonia Guiñansaca, Aja Monet, Martha Redbone, Jesse Paris Smith, and Aaron Whitby have joined a lineup that includes Students for a Free Tibet board member Chemi Lhamo, exiled Chinese-born novelist and dissident Ma Jian, poet, novelist, musician, and documentarian Liao Yiwu, translator Michael Martin Day, and Tiananmen Square student protest leaders Zhou Fengsuo, Zhang Boli, Wang Dan, and Fang Zheng. Directed by Elena Rodriguez with a script by Catherine Filloux, this special event will be held May 7 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine as part of its exhibit The Value of Sanctuary.

In a return of Cry, the Beloved Country (May 9), a stellar line-up of writers will offer eloquent accounts of the struggles in their respective countries, speaking in their original languages with simultaneous translation on screen: Ma Jian, Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, Egyptian PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award recipient Ahmed Naji (Using Life), author and PEN International President Jennifer Clement (Gun Love), Ukrainian poet Marianna Kiyanovska (The Voices of Babyn Yar), Greek novelist Christos Ikonomou (Good Will Come From the Sea), and Russian poet Kirill Medvedev (It’s No Good: poems/essays/actions). Ulrich Baer (What Snowflakes Get Right: Free Speech and Truth on Campus) will moderate a conversation between photographer and documentarian Daniel Blaufuks (Under Strange Skies), playwright Catherine Filloux(whatdoesfreemean?), Tanisha C. Ford (Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul), and Domenico Starnone (Trick), on how authors and artists can challenge nations’ self-idealizing ways of distorting and erasing inconvenient histories (May 10).

The 2019 PEN World Voices Festival honors poets with extraordinary bodies of work that blur interiority and sociopolitical dissent—and looks toward a new generation of writers driving the form. After Raúl Zurita’s imprisonment by the Pinochet regime in 1973, the legendary poet of resistance chronicled atrocities committed against the Chilean people, including attacks on their language; on May 8, Zurita will read his poetry, and will join poet Norma Cole and poet/translator William Rowe in conversation. In Poetry to Power (May 10), Puerto Rican poet, activist, and actress Caridad de la Luz, aka La Bruja, will interview acclaimed poet Juan Felipe Herrera—the first Mexican-American U.S. Poet Laureate—and both will read their own works; the evening will also feature readings of poetry written by undocumented young adults. On May 7, celebrated poets Morgan Parker (Magical Negro), Jericho Brown (The Tradition), and Fatimah Asghar (If They Come for Us) will read from their work and join in conversation about crafting deeply personal poetry that carries the grief and pain of historical crime and ancestral trauma. On May 9, in Essex Hemphill: Remembering and Reimagining, author/activist Darnell L. Moore (No Ashes in the Fire); writer, poet, and playwright Timothy DuWhite; interdisciplinary artist, performer, and writer Ni’ja Whitson; and filmmaker and poet Michelle Parkerson will pay homage to Essex Hemphill, the incisively political poet who gave voice to the experiences of black gay men in America during the 1980s and 1990s and who is among the generations lost to AIDS. May 11 will also include a day of programming in celebration of the life and work of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa (The Emperor of Water Clocks), with events featuring many of his former students and peers. Black Arts Movement catalyst Sonia Sanchezwill perform with the Worker Writers School poets led by Mark Nowak (May 11), and in a second program (May 12), will be joined by Ras Baraka and April R. Silver to discuss revolution across generational lines and how to use art in the pursuit of justice. The Worker Writers School is a collaboration between Nowak and PEN America to cultivate and feature the poetry of low income wage earners from the Domestic Workers United, Taxi Drivers Alliance, Retail Action Project, and the Street Vendors Project.

Digital technology has the potential to democratize global politics, empower activists, and facilitate free speech, but recent events have also shown us how technology can exert a sinister influence on democratic practices. In Siri, Where’s My Democracy? Presented with The Guardian (May 11), Carole Cadwalladr—the celebrated investigative journalist who broke the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook scandal—author and journalist Sue Halpern (Summer Hours at the Robbers Library), and privacy expert Danielle Citron (Hate Crimes in Cyberspace) will assess the utopian potential against the dystopian outcome that can result from the interaction of tech and politics. In Orwell’s China (May 8), Ma Jian (China Dream) and journalist Leta Hong Fincher (Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China) will speak with Chip Rolley, addressing the heightening surveillance culture, police state, and attacks on feminism in China. In Surveillance Capitalism, Human Autonomy, and You, Shoshana Zuboff (The Age of Surveillance Capitalism) and Douglas Rushkoff (Team Human) will join Siva Vaidhyanathan(Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy) to discuss questions of free will and autonomy in an age where our online behavior is closely tracked and manipulated for profit (May 8). The Big Chill: Creativity in the Era of Data Mining—with Dave Eggers (The Circle), technology journalist and Recode Decode host Kara Swisher, H.M. Naqvi(The Selected Works of Abdullah the Cossack and Home Boy), and students from the International Youth Congress Ifeoma White-Thorpe and Iman Abdul—will pair two generations of thought leaders in examining the impact of digital surveillance on creative expression. Digital technology has also radically reshaped our personal lives. Love in the Time of Tinder, featuring Niviaq Korneliussen (Last Night in Nuuk), Gabriela Wiener (Sexographies), Mary H.K. Choi(Permanent Record), and BuzzFeed Books founding editor/#AMtoDM co-host Isaac Fitzgerald, will look at how literature reflects the tumultuous digitized terrain of modern love and sexuality (May 7).

This year’s festival will also amplify stories from those with a keen understanding of the most contentious space within our own national discourse—the southern U.S. border. Soledad Castillo and Gabriel Méndez—who, through the oral history initiative Voice of Witness, shared their stories of border crossing to escape manifold horrors at home—will speak with the platform’s co-founder, acclaimed author Dave Eggers (The Parade), and the organization’s executive director Mimi Lok, in My Story, My Journey, My Freedom (May 8). On May 10, in This Transfronterizo Life, Jennifer Clement and Willivaldo Delgadillo (Garabato)—two authors whose experiences span both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border—will discuss this fraught space and the cross-cultural influences in their work with Oliver Laughland, senior reporter at The Guardian US. Dreaming Out Loud will feature stories written by undocumented students and DREAMers under the creative guidance of authors Álvaro Enrigue, Lisa Ko, and Charlie Vázquez (May 11).

2019 PEN World Voices’ lineup of challenging and enlightening contemporary writing includes recent examples of literary fiction’s richest offerings from the U.S. and abroad. On May 8, Marlon James (A Brief History of Seven Killings) will speak with Victor LaValle (The Changeling) about his leap into the genre of epic fantasy, and about building a meticulous imaginary world around elements of African mythology for his Dark Star trilogy (whose first book Black Leopard, Red Wolf was released in February). Sheila Heti (Motherhood) and Elif Batuman (The Idiot) will discuss their approach to the autobiographical novel, and how they’ve blended memoir and fiction (May 10). In Women Uninterrupted, Elif Shafak (Three Daughters of Eve), Inês Pedrosa (In Your Hands), and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jennifer Egan (Manhattan Beach) will discuss their creating remarkable fictional female characters (May 11). Acclaimed Latin American authors Rodrigo Rey Rosa (Chaos: A Fable) and Rodrigo Fresán(The Invented Part) will discuss their work in The Library of Borges (May 7). Rodrigo Rey Rosa will also join Tommy Orange (There There) and Mohammed Hanif (Red Birds) in The Art of Violence (May 12), talking about their approaches to rendering brutal and traumatic circumstances on the page. Resonances—moderated by PEN World Voices co-founder Esther Allen—will feature Niviaq Korneliussen, Bridgett M. Davis, Gabrielle Bell (Everything Is Flammable), and Willivaldo Delgadillo reading passages from their own works as well as writing by authors who have influenced them (May 9).

As a festival that transcends genres and mediums, PEN World Voices will feature living legend Philippe Petit (On the High Wire), who famously walked between the roofs of the Twin Towers in 1974. He has, in the words of Mikhail Baryshnikov, achieved “a precise balance of chaos and creativity,” and will share what it takes to do this with fellow artist Elizabeth Streb in Artists of the Air (May 7). George Packer (The Atlantic) has written Our Man, a compelling biography of Richard Holbrooke, arguably the last great American diplomat, which he will discuss with PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel and journalist Ahmed Rashid in A Very American Diplomat(May 7). Tibetan Buddhist meditation master and best-selling author Yongey Mingyur Rinpochewill speak with his student Laurie Anderson about his latest book, In Love with the World, and the transformative experiences he details within it (May 7). On May 10, the New York premiere screening of Kirill Serebrennikov’s film Leto will follow Kino co-founding singer-songwriter Viktor Tsoi on his early journey from underground experimentation towards Soviet Union-wide stardom. With the film touching on Soviet censorship in the 1980s, and Serebrennikov currently under house arrest in Russia, the event will, on multiple levels, serve as a tribute to uninhibited creativity in the face of institutional oppression. Last year’s One Book One New Yorkchampion Jennifer Egan will join BuzzFeed Books editor Arianna Rebolini, in an announcement and introduction of this year’s winner (May 10).

The Festival’s embrace of conversation-starting work further extends to live performance. World Voices: International Play Festival 2019a four-day festival within the festival presented with The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center—will feature readings of works by Nora Abdel-Maksoud, Sibylle Berg, Necati Öziri, Falk Richter, Yael Ronen, and Sivan Ben-Yishai, all playwrights connected to the Gorki Theater in Berlin (May 6-9). In Elyla Sinverguenza: Countering Colonialism: A Queer Ritual of Healing, PEN World Voices partners with BAAD! The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance to present yet another expressive form: queer Nicaraguan performance artist Elyla Sinverguenza will perform their new work, Saint Peter Goose/Duck Pulling, reimagining a violent hyper-masculine ritual as a healing act (May 11). PEN World Voices also partners with the 2019 MATA festival to present Poetry in Concert:Blo∂hofnír (Bloodhoof), a work that expands audiences’ notions of how poetry can be experienced, in a sonic realization of Iceland’s Gerður Kristný’s Bloodhoof, her incisive feminist reevaluation of the classic Eddic poem “Skírnismál” (May 11).

The PEN America Prison Writing Program has commissioned incarcerated writers to reflect on the tensions between the realm of public readership and the often hidden creative life in prison. A selection of their works—by Peter Dunne, Greg Goodman, Lacino Hamilton, Elizabeth Hawes, Matthew Feeney, Benjamin Frandsen, Arthur Longworth, Santonio Murff,and Anna Vanderford—will be read by a dynamic group of authors, poets, actors, and activists, including Mahogany L. Browne, Aja Monet, Jon Sands, Christopher Soto, Kirya Traber, and Jecoina Vinson, in Exposure: On writing in prison (May 8).

Next Generation Now is a daylong series of stories and activities for children and families to experience literature as a means to become socially engaged, curated by Meg Lemke of Mutha Magazine on May 11 at Town Stages. It includes the fun and fabulous Drag Queen Story Hour(ages 3-8) featuring Miz Jade; the creative workshop Spellbound Theatre: Today I Will Be Fierce! (for children up to age 8), with Nidhi Chanani (co-creator of I Will Be Fierce!); Finding Your Voice: Comics Carousel, with graphic novel pioneers Molly Ostertag (The Witch Boy), Nidhi Chanani, and Jerry Craft (New Kid), and emcee Robert Sikoryak (The Unquotable Trump) giving dramatic readings and visual presentations of their works (for ages 8-14); Hello, Planet(for kids up to 8) with illustrator Liniers, who will read from his picture book Good Night, Planet and paint a mural based on audience participation; You Kid: A Comics and Graphic Novel Workshop with Jerry Craft (for ages 7-14) and Make a Book with 826NYC! (for ages 8-14), both engaging and honing young people’s own storytelling potentials; and more. In Truth or Tales?, acclaimed YA writers Fatima Shaik, Martha Brockenbrough, Susan Kuklin, Torrey Maldonado, and Rita Williams-Garcia will discuss discerning fact from fiction in the digital age.

PEN World Voices Media Sponsors include WNYC, The Guardian, The New Republic, and New York Magazine.

This post is courtesy of PEN America; header photo of Arundhati Roy is courtesy of Augustus Binu under CC BY-SA 3.0; her photo in the body of the post is courtesy of jeanbaptisteparisFlickr: Arundhati Roy under CC BY-SA 2.0.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. It’s mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. 

PEN America celebrates the release of Turkish Journalist and Artist, Zehra Doğan

“Art should never be a crime. [Zehra] Doğan is a model of courage for all journalists and artists for standing up against injustice and silence, especially because of her determination to work and create while incarcerated.” Julie Trébault, Director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America



Last week PEN America celebrated the release of Turkish painter, journalist and feminist activist, incarcerated Zehra Doğan (Free Zehra Doğan • Zehra Doğan’a özgürlük). Doğan was released on February 24 after spending 600 days in a Turkish jail after courts deemed her journalistic and artistic work to be “terrorist propaganda.”

Doğan was the editor of Jin News Agency (JINHA), a feminist Kurdish news agency. She was arrested on July 21, 2016, and detained until December 2016 when she was released pending trial. On March 7, 2017, Doğan was sentenced to prison for 2 years, 10 months and 22 days on charges of “terrorist propaganda” as a result of her reporting, social media posts, and her paintings about the Turkish military’s operations in the largely Kurdish town of Nusaybin. The indictment stated that one of her paintings, which depicted a real-life scene of Turkish flags on war-torn buildings and was based on a photo circulated by the Turkish military on social media, went ‘beyond the limits of criticism.’ JINHA was also shut down as part of the government crackdown following an attempted coup in 2016.

“We are delighted that Zehra has been released and reunited with family and friends after her unjust imprisonment, which was an appalling affront to free expression,” said Julie Trébault, Director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Art should never be a crime. Doğan is a model of courage for all journalists and artists for standing up against injustice and silence, especially because of her determination to work and create while incarcerated. Many other journalists in Turkey remain behind bars. As we celebrate Zehra’s release, we call for the release of all other Turkish journalists, artists, and activists who are in prison for their journalism or their expression.”

While imprisoned, Doğan rigorously continued to work on her paintings using diverse media including pomegranate shells, tincture of iodine, and bedsheets, despite restricted access to painting materials. Following her release, she told BBC Turkish that she had never painted as much as she did in prison. Also while in prison, she founded the 8-page handmade newspaper Özgür Gündem Zindan (Free Agenda Dungeon) with the help of several of her fellow inmates. As an inmate, Doğan received public support from numerous human rights organizations and renowned artists, including the graffiti artist Banksy and prominent Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. During her imprisonment, Doğan became the second woman in Turkey to receive the International Women’s Media Foundation’s “Courage in Journalism” award. She also received the Freethinker Prize from the Swiss Freethinker Association. Most recently, Doğan was shortlisted in the Arts category for the Index on Censorship Awards 2019.

*****

Post and photograph courtesy of PEN America.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


ABOUT

POPULAR POLITICAL BLOGGER, LAURA BERLIN, DENIED PRESS CREDENTIAL TO COVER IOWA’S 2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

“PEN declares for a free press and opposes arbitrary censorship. It believes that the necessary advance of the world toward a more highly organized political and economic order renders free criticism of governments, administrations, and institutions imperative.” PEN Charter, 1948



“The Iowa House’s decision to deny press credentials to influential political blogger Laura Belin (Bleeding Heart, A community blog about Iowa politics) is a disturbing limitation on her First Amendment rights,” PEN America announced in a statement earlier this week.

Laura Belin, a writer and blogger who has covered political news at the Iowa state legislature since 2007, recently applied for and was reportedly denied a formal press credential that would have allowed her to cover the 2019 legislative session. The press credential would have provided deeper access to lawmaker briefings throughout the session as well as a workspace to focus on her blog, The Bleeding Heartland, which receives more than 1,500 unique daily visitors when the legislature is in session. Belin has been touted as “one of the best political reporters in Iowa” by news executive Michael Gartner. In denying Belin’s application, the Iowa House stated that “press credentials are not issued to members of the public.” Belin told the Associated Press that other non-traditional news outlets have been issued press credentials in the past and suggested that the reason for the denial may be the liberal-leaning nature of her blog. Belin has attempted to appeal the House’s decision and is considering legal action.

“There is little obvious reason why the Iowa House might have denied Belin’s press credential application, and it would be deeply concerning if their decision was motivated by wanting to restrict the political viewpoints espoused in her blog,” said Nora Benavidez, Director of U.S. Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “The general lack of transparency around the House’s process for approving press credentials creates space for unfounded restrictions of journalist access. We caution the Iowa House that any content-based limitations on journalists’ ability to report on government business would be an affront to press freedoms.”

In October 2018, PEN America filed a lawsuit, PEN America v. Trump, that seeks to stop President Trump from using the machinery of government to retaliate or threaten reprisals against journalists and media outlets for coverage he dislikes.

*****

Photo credit: The State Capitol of Iowa, with its Golden Dome courtesy of Iqkotze under CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


ABOUT

Testimonials

Disclosure

Facebook

Twitter

Poet and writer, I was once columnist and associate editor of a regional employment publication. I currently run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers. My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation PressThe Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman. My poetry was recently read by Northern California actor Richard Lingua for Poetry Woodshed, Belfast Community Radio. I was featured in a lengthy interview on the Creative Nexus Radio Show where I was dubbed “Poetry Champion.”


The BeZine: Waging the Peace, An Interfaith Exploration featuring Fr. Daniel Sormani, Rev. Benjamin Meyers, and the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi among others

“What if our religion was each other. If our practice was our life. If prayer, our words. What if the temple was the Earth. If forests were our church. If holy water–the rivers, lakes, and ocean. What if meditation was our relationships. If the teacher was life. If wisdom was self-knowledge. If love was the center of our being.” Ganga White, teacher and exponent of Yoga and founder of White Lotus, a Yoga center and retreat house in Santa Barbara, CA

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton

YANG TONGYAN, IMPRISONED CHINESE WRITER and ACTIVIST, DIED WHILE ON MEDICAL PAROLE, his imprisonment a further blow to free expression

Photo from Yang Tongyan’s Facebook Page.
“Yang Tongyan was a peaceful champion of human rights and democracy, who made a huge personal sacrifice to stay true to his principles. The authorities feared the power of his writing and did all they could to silence him.He should never have spent a single day in jail let alone nearly half his life,” Nicholas Bequelin, East Asia Director at Amnesty International.
.

News that Chinese writer and recipient of the 2008 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award Yang Tongyan has passed away, less than four months after the death of Liu Xiaobo under similar circumstances, is a further devastating loss for free expression advocates around the world and a harsh reminder of how critics of the government are treated by Chinese authorities, PEN America announced Tuesday.

According to a contact at the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC), Yang Tongyan passed away after being released from Nanjing Prison on medical parole in August 2017 following his diagnosis with an aggressive form of brain cancer. He briefly returned to his home in Siyang, Jiangsu province. Although he was sent to a hospital in Shanghai that specializes in neurological care to have brain surgery, his family were informed that, as he was a “criminal,” he would not be permitted to leave the country for treatment, according to Yang’s sister.

According to Amnesty International, “Yang Tongyan was months away from completing a 12-year prison sentence when he was released on medical parole. His conviction for ‘subversion’ in 2006 was based on his writings in support of political and democratic change in China. He previously served a 10-year prison sentence for criticizing the crackdown on China’s 1989 pro-democracy movement.”

“Yang Tongyan’s death, so soon after that of Liu Xiaobo, is another black mark on the Chinese authorities’ human rights record,” said Karin Karlekar, PEN America’s Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs.

Yang, who wrote under the pseudonym Yang Tianshui, was a brilliant writer, literary critic, and member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC), an organization of leading writers working on free expression issues both inside and outside of China. He was known for his critical writings published on web sites such as Boxun.com and EpochTimes.com. His catalog of literary writing includes poems, short stories, essays, novels, and memos, many of which were written during his time in prison. In May 2006, after a three hour trial that was closed to the public, Yang was sentenced to twelve years’ imprisonment and four years’ deprivation of political rights by the Zhenjiang Intermediate Court in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, on charges of “subversion of state power” for writing dissident articles, and for his political activism. He had suffered from poor health for years, and had served eleven years of his twelve-year sentence before his family’s third request for medical parole was approved.

News of Yang’s death comes less than four months after Nobel Peace Laureate and notable writer Liu Xiaobo’s death in custody from liver cancer. Following Liu’s release from prison, the authorities also denied his wish to travel overseas to access high-quality medical treatment. Since his death and funeral, his widow, poet and painter Liu Xia, has been held at an unknown location and has had no contact with family and friends.

China’s extensive censorship apparatus limits freedom of speech both within and outside its borders. The situation has grown more alarming since President Xi Jinping took office in early 2013, with an increased crackdown on free speech and implementation of additional censorship laws and restrictions on the internet. Lengthy prison sentences have long been used in China to silence dissident voices, and many Chinese writers, journalists, and pro-democracy activists live in fear of censorship, harassment, and incarceration as a result of speaking out about sensitive issues.

*****

This feature is courtesy of Yang Tongyan’s Facebook Page, PEN America and Amnesty International

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Amnesty International is a global movement of over seven million people who, under this umbrella, campaign for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all.

“Only when the last prisoner of conscience has been freed, when the last torture chamber has been closed, when the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a reality for the world’s people, will our work be done.” Peter Benenson, Amnesty International Founder

ABOUT THE POET BY DAY