What a rich collaboration this is: International PEN and 26. Every day I read fifty new words written in freedom by a 26 writer here and now. We’ve each been inspired by the life and work of an oppressed writer whose case study – somewhere in the world these last five decades – appears in a list on the PEN website.
Many of us find ourselves addressing this writer directly as ‘you’. It’s how we talk to the dead, the missed or the missing. It’s how we voice odes or letters. We invoke you.
Fifty writers, fifty years. And there are more of you, before, during, and after. Some of you survived.
So many of your life-breaths in a cell. Eyes deprived of light. Tortures and humiliations designed to cut you down to the raw stump of your existence. And yet you write.
You write in your mind, with blood or juice, on scraps or skins, when you get out, when you can shout, you keep on writing, publishing, provoking – until the authorities get you again. Then they take up where they left off, hacking at whatever’s left of you. And you must finish your sentence.
Why do you do it? Are you mad as a martyr, delusional, gifted, grand? How can you be so convinced of your truth?