PEN Honors Chinese Writers, Weathers Pro-People’s Republic Agitation

By Neal Comment

top row: Philip Gourevitch, Russell Bank
bottom: Edward Albee

Last week, I gave you a heads-up about a PEN-sponsored tribute to “Bringing down the Great Firewall of China,” writers persecuted by the People’s Republic. GalleyCat events correspondent Amanda ReCupido subsequently attended the event, which began, she says, with video surveillance footage of one writer under house arrest. “Each speaker then became the ‘voice’ of an imprisoned writer, ” she reports, “reading a portion of their work since they cannot do it themselves.” (You can listen to those readings at the PEN website.)

Philip Gourevitch read from Liao Yiwu‘s humorous social commentary ‘The Public-Toilet Manager,’ which at one point states that the public restroom in China served as the only venue of free speech. Francine Prose read on behalf of Li Jianhong, who was only allowed to leave China when she received a fellowship in Stockholm, and then only if she promised never to return.

“The highlight, so to speak, of the evening was when an unruly audience member repeatedly interrupted Edward Albee, who read on behalf of Shen Youlian, with chants of ‘Long live the People’s Republic of China!’ and accusations that I can’t repeat here (the man was duly escorted out of the auditorium, but was spotted at the exit handing out copies of a Chinese daily newspaper). Albee, ever the professional, remarked, ‘I’m so glad that I live in a country where people are allowed to say… that.’ Ah yes, Albee: This is why New York named a day after you.”

Last year, ReCupido adds, PEN reached out to more than 1,000 writers in nearly 100 countries, working to secure their liberty and physical safety and restore their freedom to write, with members carrying out intensive advocacy campaigns that include direct contact with the writers or their families, as well as moral support and material assistance when needed. You can learn more about authors imprisoned around the world at the PEN website, and join the hundreds of men and women who have already signed the petition calling upon China to support freedom of expression.