French PEN Club • An evening of readings against censorship

pen club français novembre soirée

It was on a November evening, as autumnal as it can get in Paris, at l’Espace Femmes – Antoinette Fouque.


Français | English

The Alliance des Femmes (Women’s Alliance) and the French representatives of PEN International had extended an invitation for an evening of bilingual readings, in support for persecuted authors. It was the second such event. We were there in November 2018 also, and with good reason…

Artist, author and journalist Zehra Doğan was still imprisonned at the time. Her “escaped” works were already circulating in Europe, in the care of the Kedistan Association that was thus contributing to a solidarity campaign for the artist. PEN International had placed her on its “list”, a list that “hoped to be transformed into a list of names of people whose liberation would be celebrated.”

Just as the beating of a butterfly’s wings can produce a displacement of air at the other end of the world, the evening in 2018 led to the publication of Zehra Doğan’s book “Nous aurons aussi de beaux jours”, prison writings by Editions des femmes and this exhibition of over fifty of her works, scenographed by Philippe Leduc, the setting for this evening dedicated to “Endangered Writers”. This time, Zehra was on hand, following her release in February 2019.

Some will object “oh, all those useless days and evenings held in select groups of cognoscenti.”

The answer to that comes from those who were liberated and who say: “You cannot imagine how the thought that somewhere someone was reading my words, the thought that solidarity was expressed for those words that were reaching you, helped me to endure being shut up in jails, and encouraged me to fight on.”

If no one talks about a political prisoner, persecuted for her freedom of expression, her art, her writing or her fights against obscurantism and dictatorships, if such a prisoner is forgotten, she sees her resistance becoming useless and her jailors can increase the violence against her. If, at a minimum, these evenings serve some purpose, that is the one. And that is already a lot in terms of a struggle against resignation.

Such evenings serve to pay tribute to resistance, to support the prisoners, to make their condition known and from word of mouth or through their writings, to let the persecutors know that human consciences are keeping watch against their crimes.
And each liberation is a victory.

• That of Aslı Erdoğan, still under trial in Turkey despite her exile and currently the victim of an ignoble media campaign, was an event celebrated at the end of 2016 by all her supporters, PEN International among them. This latest evening also paid her tribute since her health did not allow her to be on hand. Zehra Dogan read one of Asli’s texts with great feeling: “The journal of fascism: Today”. This text appears in the prosecutor’s indictment against her.

• That of Zehra Doğan for whom this November 15 was the opportunity to celebrate and to appreciate her liberation while knowing that she now carries the torch for others arrested since or still in jail, in order to bring light on their situation also.

An empty chair and a portrait symbolized the absence of Stella Nyanzi, an Ugandan resistor, an anthropologist, Ph.d., feminist, defendor of LGBTI rights, currently in jail.

During these November evenings, the format calls for the reading of texts, all more poignant the one than the other by poets, authors and people from the artistic community. These texts gave rise to powerful readings, while one woman now in France provided information that calls into question ready-made ideas about persecuted peoples, ideas that China and others, spread like a smokescreen over the oppression and ongoing cultural genocides – if not more. Soon we will open Kedistan’s pages to the one who did such a fine job of defending the cause of peoples on whom false claims of religious indoctrination are used as cover-ups for their confinement.

The evening concluded with a multiple-voice reading of Eluard’s “Liberté” in as many languages as possible, thanks to the foreign language speakers on hand. The text was accompanied at the piano by Emmanuel Bigot, an actor also present on this November evening.

That an intellectual, a personality in the world of art, an author, in short, what is often referred to as a member of the elite, who instead of swearing allegiance to a flag or making an ostensible show of signing prestigious petitions puts his or her notoriety at the service of human solidarity, without expecting anything other in return except the satisfaction of a liberation has become such a rare occurrence. More’s the reason to mention it with a warm salutation.

Participating in the event: Elisabeth Nicoli Emmanuel Pierrat, Andreas Becker, Colette Klein, Philippe Bouret, Zehra Doğan, Naz Oke, Francis Coffinet, Marina Vlady, Cecile Oumhani, Leila Bahsain, Izabella Borges, Rita Grillo, Kubra Kedhemi, Chochana Boukhobza, Mecieji Patronik, Cristina Botta, Hervé Vilard, Dilnur Reyhan, Julien Cendre, with the voice of Celine Brulot and Emmanuel Bigot at the piano. With apologies to anyone we may have omitted mentioning…


Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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