Writers Worldwide Mourn the Death of Writer-Activist Liu Xiaobo in Chinese prison

Politial protest in Hong Kong against the detention of Liu Xiaobo, Photo courtesy of  Pederez under CC BY-SA 2.0 license


The death of Liu Xiaobo will forever mar China’s reputation under international law and global human rights standards, PEN America said today and called on China to Release Late Literary Icon’s Wife, Liu Xia

Liu Xiaobo, a brilliant writer, literary critic, and pro-democracy activist, was a founding member and former president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. After his arrest, PEN America honored Liu with the 2009 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, kicking off an international campaign for his freedom that culminated in his receipt—in absentia—of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.

PEN America held a candlelight vigil earlier this evening at the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the U.N. to honor Liu Xiaobo’s legacy and protest continued human rights abuses in China, where more than forty writers are currently in jail. This free, public event featured readings from the work of Liu and his wife, Liu Xia, who remains under house arrest in China without charge since her husband’s receipt of the Nobel Prize.

PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel released the following statement today in response to news of Liu Xiaobo’s death today:

“The death of Liu Xiaobo today from a virulent cancer contracted while serving an 11-year prison sentence will forever be a black mark marring China’s reputation under international law and global human rights standards.

“As President of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, Liu Xiaobo was a friend and compatriot for writers all over the world who struggle against tyranny using words as their sole weapon. Liu Xiaobo’s purported crime was no crime at all, but rather a visionary exposition on the potential future of a country he loved.

“For the act of penning seven sentences, China punished Liu Xiaobo with a long prison term, limiting his access to state-of-the-art medical care that might have prevented his illness or improved his prognosis. China’s refusal to honor Liu Xiaobo’s last wish to travel overseas for treatment and its decision to hold him incommunicado during his dying days are a cruel epitaph in the tale of a powerful regime’s determination to crush a brave man who dared challenge a government that sustains its rule through suppression and fear. Liu Xiaobo was not afraid. His courage in life and in death is an inspiration to those who stand for freedom in China and everywhere.

“Our thoughts are with Liu Xiaobo’s family and friends, especially his beloved wife, the poet Liu Xia, who has been kept under house arrest, harassed, and hounded for years without charge. The only thing the Chinese government can do now to expiate its complicity in the death of Liu Xiaobo is to grant his wife, Liu Xia, the freedoms in life that her husband gained only in death. PEN America calls on China to immediately grant Liu Xia freedom of movement, expression, and travel lest their crimes against Liu Xiaobo claim a second victim.”


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. The organization 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.

ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF PABLO NERUDA’S BIRTH: Everything Exists in a Word

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), Parral, Chile

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), b. Parral, Chile

“You can say anything you want, yes sir, but it’s the words that sing, they soar and they descend ….. I bow to them . . . I cling to them, I run them down, I bite into them . . I love words so much … The ones I wait for greedily … they glitter like colored stones, they leap like silver fish… They are foam, thread, metal, dew … I stalk certain words… They are so beautiful that I want to fit them all into my poem… I catch them in mid-flight, as they buzz past, I trap them, clean them, peel them, I set myself in front of the dish, they have a crystalline texture to me, vibrant, ivory, vegetable, oily, like fruit, like algae, like agates, like olives… And I stir them, I shake them, I drink them, I gulp them down, I mash them, I garnish them …. I leave them in my poem like stalactites, like slivers of polished wood, like coals, like pickings from a shipwreck, gifts from the waves … Everything exists in the word.” Pablo Neruda in his Memoirs

Photo credit ~ U.S. Public Domain, 1966, Neruda recording his poetry

CELEBRATING AMERICAN SHE-POETS (21): Alice Walker, on the way to being daffodils

Writer, Poet and Activist, Alice Walker (b. 1944)

Writer, Poet and Activist, Alice Walker (b. 1944)

Speaking of death
and decay
It hardly matters
Which
Since both are on the
way, maybe –
to being daffodils.

excerpt from Exercises on Themes from Life in Once: Poems (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968)

This celebration is a rain-drop next to the ocean of ongoing world-wide applause for Alice Walker (Alice Walker’s Garden). Her roots are in Putnam Country, Georgia where her family subsisted financially on earnings from sharecropping, dairy-farming and her mother’s part-time employment as a maid.  Ms. Walker seems to come by her spunk and savvy honestly. When a white plantation owner told her mother that black people had “no need for education,” she replied …

“‘You might have some black children somewhere, but they don’t live in this house. Don’t you ever come around here again talking about how my children don’t need to learn how to read and write.’ Her mother enrolled Alice in first grade when the girl was four years old.”  Evelyn C White in Alice Walker: A Life (W.W. Norton, 2004)

51-dZyRDSyL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_

Alice Walker is perhaps most well-known to some for her fiction especially The Color Purple, The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing the Secret of Joy (Open Road Media, 2012 – Kindle edition).  The Color Purple won her the National Book Award and The Pulitzer Prize. It was adapted for theater, both screen and as a musical stage play. The latter won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical and the 2016 Drama League Award for Outstanding Revival of a Musical. Alice Walker was the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer for fiction. (Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African-American woman to win it for poetry.)

41I+GqM1XdL._AC_US160_

Once:Poems was Alice Walker’s debut poetry collection, written during a 1965 trip to East Africa and her senior year at Sarah Lawrence College. The book established her as an A-list poet and Muriel Rukeyser (among many others) gave it a thumbs-up saying, “Brief slashing poems – Young, and in the sun.”

In Kampala
the young king
goes often to Church
the young girls here
are
so pious.

excerpt from African Images, Glimpses from a Tiger’s Back in Once:Poems

Her other collections include: Hard Times Require Furious Dancing: New Poems (2013); The World Will Follow Joy: Turning Madness into Flowers (2013); Her Blue Body Everything We Know: earthling Poems 1965-1990 (2004); and Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth: New Poems (2004).

With Gloria Steinem on the Fall 2009 Cover of Ms. magazine

With Gloria Steinem on the Fall 2009 Cover of Ms. magazine

No celebration of Alice Walker’s work would be complete without acknowledging her ceaseless efforts on behalf of the poor and marginalized. She is an advocate for peace and understanding. She was initially inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. and worked in the civil rights movement and by Howard Zin. She dedicated Once:Poems to Mr. Zin. Wherever people are oppressed in this world, you will find Alice Walker fighting the compassionate fight.

If you are viewing this from an email subscription, you’ll have to link through to the site to view this video of Alice Walker in Palestine in August 2010.

Ms. Walker regularly posts new poetry at her site Alice Walker’s Garden along with opinion pieces and updates on her own work and that of others.  Her Amazon page is HERE.

portrait © Virginia Bolt under CC BY-SA 2.0; Ms. cover © Ms. Magazine under CC BY-SA 2.0.

CELEBRATING AMERICAN SHE-POETS (10): Audre Lorde, “My mother had two faces and a frying pot.”

Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

“your severed daughter
laughing our name into echo
all the world shall remember ”
Audre Lorde, The Black Unicorn: Poems

I discovered Audre Lorde when I happened upon From the House of Yemanjá (below). Wow! She’s been peaking in our window, I thought. How could she know? I was very young and didn’t start really delving into her work until recently. Time sadly lost.

How many women and men grew up with two-faced mothers who took care (albeit resentfully) of the pragmatic aspects of motherhood, but were unable to love and demanded perfection of their children in return for their own unhappiness. Many, no doubt; but no one writes about the experiences of being marginalized in the home – or in the greater world – like Audre Lorde, a seminal poet. She had a keen mind, courageous spirit, was stunning in her crafting and had a gift for expressing emotion.

“Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.”

Audre Lorde was born in New York City, the child of immigrants from Caribbean. She was a writer and poet, a radical feminist, a womanist and lesbian, an activist for right and the rights of the marginalized.

“Institutionalized rejection of difference is an absolute necessity in a profit economy which needs outsiders as surplus people.”

The_Cancer_JournalsAudre Lorde wrote seventeen books by my count, both poetry and prose including her fictionalized biography, Zamie, A New Spelling of My Name – a Biomythology and The Cancer Journals, about her battle with breast cancer.

Lorde was New York State poet laureate in 1991 and until her death from liver cancer in 1992.

“The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.”

From the House of Yemanjá

My mother had two faces and a frying pot
where she cooked up her daughters
into girls
before she fixed our dinner.
My mother had two faces
and a broken pot
where she hid out a perfect daughter
who was not me
I am the sun and moon and forever hungry
for her eyes.

I bear two women upon my back
one dark and rich and hidden
in the ivory hungers of the other
mother
pale as a witch
yet steady and familiar
brings me bread and terror
in my sleep
her breasts are huge exciting anchors
in the midnight storm.

All this has been
before
in my mother´s bed
time has no sense
I have no brothers
and my sisters are cruel.

Mother I need
mother I need
mother I need your blackness now
as the august earth needs rain.

I am
the sun and moon and forever hungry
the sharpened edge
where day and night shall meet
and not be
one.

– Audre Lorde (1978)

“What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence.”

© From the House of Yemanjá, The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1997); portrait courtesy of K. Kendell under CC BY 2.0 license; book cover art, Estate of Audre Lorde