The Day of the Imprisoned Writer

“When another writer in another house is not free, no writer is free” – Orhan Pamuk

Today is the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, an annual, international day intended to recognise and support writers who resist repression of the basic human right to freedom of expression and who stand up to attacks made against their right to impart information.

Globally writers are increasingly targeted and silenced by their governments as the climate for freedom of expression continues to deteriorate.

Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee said:

“This is a day of solidarity and action. It’s a day in which PEN’s global community stands with those writers who are paying a heavy price for their commitment and belief that we all have a right to express ourselves freely and peacefully. It is a day on which we say, in one voice, that they are not alone. It is also a day on which we tell those governments who seek to silence writers that we will continue to stand with them and against any authority, system, or power that views the right to free expression as a threat.’

In Burma anyone outspoken against military rule has been routinely locked up in prisons for years. Currently there are 43 prisons and over 50 labour camps holding political activists. We know many are writers, but have no idea of the exact number. Most recently, Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were jailed. These two journalists have been sentenced to seven years in prison on retaliatory charges of violating the government’s colonial-era Officials Secrets Act. Working for an international news organisation, they reported on a story of profound global significance a crisis: millions of Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Burma.

In China more than 50 journalists and bloggers are currently detained in conditions that pose a threat to their lives, according to the Independent PEN centre of Chinese writers.  Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel peace laureate and winner of the RSF Press Freedom Prize, and Yang Tongyan, a dissident blogger, both died in 2017 from cancers that were left untreated while in detention. Under tougher internet regulations, members of the public can now be jailed for the comments on a news item that they post on a social network or messaging service, or even just for sharing content.

Closer to Australia, one of the most public figures in the current refugee crises illegally detained and kept in limbo on Manus Island is Kurdish journalist Behrouz Bouchani. Behrouz is one of many hundreds of people on Manus Island who are denied their human right to seeking asylum. I highly commend his book No Friend but the Mountains which was laboriously typed out on a mobile phone from detention.

Most of us don’t have to consider our freedom to write every day, but thousands of writers do. PEN Perth Patron, Peter Greste argues that we need to make freedom of expression a much bigger part of the public conversation. The problem, he says, is that press freedom around the world has been eroding since 9/11, because governments have been using national security as an excuse.

On 15 November I ask you to think about your own freedom of expression and sign up to join PEN International which promotes literature and defends freedom of expression world-wide. You can also join a local chapter of PEN wherever you are and receive newsletters and updates straight to your inbox.

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Readers first

There is nothing more joyful than dropping into a comfortable chair with a good book. The added benefit for me is that to be a good writer you need to be a good reader. Stephen King wrote a wonderful memoir called On writing: a memoir of the craft. In it he said: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write.”

One of the things I love most about the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival is that it puts readers first. I think that’s why it draws such large audiences. As a reader you are immersed in five days of pure literary pleasure. I attend as a writer, moderator and as a reader. These photos will hopefully show some of the festival atmosphere.

At Ubud I always discover new books from writers I already know, but I also meet new authors and thinkers. Here are my recommendations from the festival.

I was privileged to interview one of my favourite authors – Gail Jones. The Death of Noah Glass takes you to the intersection and difference between families in a time of grief. As well as being beautifully written, it is a visual and sensual reading experience.

On the same panel as Gail was Fatima Bhutto. Her new book The Runaways is one you won’t be able to put down.   You’ll never forget Anita Rose, Sunny and Monty whose lives intersect in the desert and where their closely guarded secrets will force them to make a terrible choice.

Both Gail and Fatima would be excellent book club choices.

I also have books from two new authors in my reading stack. Giuseppe Catozella from Italy has sold more than half a million copies in 40 countries of his latest book Don’t tell me you’re afraid. I’m also reading Ground Zero: When the Journey Takes you Home by the wonderful Indonesian writer Agustinus Wibowo.

I love pulling books off my shelf to read and to browse. While I was waiting for the kettle to boil for morning tea I found myself browsing among the supply of children’s books that I keep for our grandchildren and found an old favourite in Dr Seuss who says: “ The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

I couldn’t agree more!

Ubud 2018 entrance

Ubud 2018 – Entrance (photo by Wirasathya Darmaja)

Ubud 2018 Rose and Gillian Triggs

Rosemary and Gillian Triggs (photo by Vifick Bolang)

Ubud 2018 Rose and Jane Caro room

Ubud 2018 – Audience (photo by Wirasathya Darmaja)

Ubud 2018 Rose and Jane Caro

Jane Caro and Rosemary (photo by Wirasathya Darmaja)

Ubud 2018 Gail Jones, Anurahda Roy, Rose, Fatima Bhutto

Gail Jones, Anurahda Roy, Rosemary, Fatima Bhutto

Ubud 2018 drawing in the audience

Ubud 2018 – portrait in progress (photo by Wirasathya Darmaja)

Feast and Fiction

I always enjoy writers’ festivals that are innovative with their programming, and the Ubud Readers and Writers festival coming up on 24-28 October fits the bill.

Now in its 15 year, I continue to be impressed with how this festival stays true to its goal to transcend cultural and geographical borders to create a truly global community. I always say the Ubud Festival is where East truly meets West in literature.

This year, not only do I get to interview Professor Gillian Triggs, former president of the Human Rights Commission in Australia, and Jane Caro, one of my favourite social commentators, but I will also be hosting a dinner where I interview three internationally acclaimed novelists.

Where else would you have Anurahda Roy from India, Gail Jones from Australia and Fatima Bhutto from Pakistan together in one session? Despite their different heritages and styles, in varying ways each novelist explores common themes of life and death, home and belonging. Individually they are all literary stars but hearing conversations with all three in one evening over a sumptuous dinner should be a feast for the mind and the body.

Each writer will be speaking with me during a different course at dinner at one of Ubud’s pre-eminent restaurants, Bridges. Over entrée I’ll interview Anuradha about her novel All the Lives we Never Lived; during main course Gail Jones will join me to discuss her latest book The Death of Noah Glass; and over desert we’ll gain insights into the turbulent Pakistani dynasty that is Fatima Bhutto’s family and her forthcoming novel The Runaways.

I’ll review some of the authors and their books in the coming months. This is one festival that must go on your bucket list!

The power of the written word

I am thrilled to be joining both emerging and established writers who will descend on the Centre for Stories and other venues in Perth for the Australian Short Story Festival, running from Friday 19 to Sunday 21 October.

“My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel – it is, before all, to make you see.”

This powerful quote by Joseph Conrad will be in my mind when I participate on a panel at the festival on Sunday 21 October. With my colleagues Dennis Haskell and Marcella Polain, we’ll discuss the power of the written word and its conflict with the sword in a session hosted by PEN Perth.

pen-perthI am often asked what PEN stands for. Its name was conceived as an acronym: ‘Poets, Essayists, Novelists’ (later broadened to ‘Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, Novelists’) in the UK in 1921. Over many decades it has become a genuinely international organisation, encompassing a wide array of cultures and languages with over 146 Centres around the world.

PEN promotes literature and defends freedom of expression world-wide. You can join a local chapter of PEN wherever you are and receive newsletters and updates straight to your inbox. Right now that means you can access more information about the brutal killing of the Bulgarian investigative TV presenter Viktoria Marinova in Ruse, Bulgaria on 7 October, which came five days after the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist critical of the Saudi regime, in Istanbul. There are unconfirmed reports that he may have been killed in the embassy.

In Australia, PEN campaigns for a number of writers including Iranian Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani who has just won the Anna Politkovskaya investigative journalism award for his work documenting Australia’s offshore immigration detention program. Behrouz, a refugee who fled Iran, has been held in indefinite detention since 2013 – first on Christmas Island and then on Manus Island. PEN Perth aims to raise the consciousness of the public and encourage a world where writers are free to express themselves, responsibly and respectfully.

I encourage you to participate in the Short Story Festival. You can book tickets online, and some of them are free. It should be a great event – I am particularly looking forward to David Malouf’s opening address and Maria Takolander’s sessions. I hope to see you there.

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Speaking up

What a privilege and inspiration to hear Professor Gillian Triggs, former president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, speak last night.

Professor Triggs is on the first leg of a book tour promoting her memoir Speaking Up. She spoke at the University of Western Australia to a packed theatre about her life and the many challenges she faced during her five-year tenure. She withstood relentless political pressure and media scrutiny as she and the Commission advocated for the disempowered, the disenfranchised and the marginalised.

I’m thrilled that I will be interviewing Professor Triggs myself at the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival in October. It will be a chance for us all to learn more about her global views and the lessons and insights she has taken from her time at the Human Rights Commission.

She left us in no doubt that as an Australian society we have failed to measure up to the human rights standards we hypocritically endorse. She worries about the decline in political leadership in Australia, and in her speech, highlighted some key issues in her book. She spoke passionately about Indigenous Australians and their human rights, freedom of speech, gender and marriage equality and the monitoring, treatment and law about asylum seekers.

She believes Australians can pull together and become a better society. She argued that the time is right for a legislated charter of human rights.

“We do not view social justice through the lens of human rights in Australia. Human rights law does not inform the legal or political discourse and is often ignored and expressly overridden by the parliament.

It is our responsibility as citizens in this democracy to become more informed and to speak up about injustices.”

I am looking forward to my interview with Professor Triggs and I’ll share some more of her thoughts on this blog.  In the meantime, I recommend the book Speaking Up to everyone.

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Refugees create jobs

Recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data revealed that people who arrived in Australia as refugees are the most entrepreneurial migrant group. ‘This builds on earlier research showing people of a refugee background tended to work several jobs in their first few years in Australia to build capital to start their own businesses,’ the ABS said.

Today, Australia is more multicultural than ever before. We live this reality in the food we eat, the music we listen to and, most importantly, with the people we choose to spend time with.

Refugees are not taking Australian jobs, they are creating new ones. There are so many good stories around about big and small enterprises but I wanted to highlight one.

The Fare Go food truck is a social enterprise food truck operated by people from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds. Started by CARAD – the Centre for Asylum Seekers, refugees and detainees in Western Australia, the Fare Go food truck gives us the opportunity to eat, share and connect over food from different cultures while empowering refugees and asylum seekers through employment.

I was pleased to see that the Fare Go enterprise has been chosen to participate in the Pitch for Good event in October.  Impact Seed, StartSomeGood and City of Perth host the event which is essentially a triple-decker live crowdfunding campaign!

It is such a great event – and the finalists are all doing amazing work. Each have the chance to ‘pitch’ their idea to up to 250 people, all of whom are interested in social enterprises and keen to make a difference. There is a cost to attend and all money goes to the enterprises participating. You can find out more about the event and book to attend here.

Fare Go food truck

Why I love libraries

Can you believe an economist penned an opinion piece on the website of business magazine Forbes entitled Amazon should replace local libraries to save taxpayers money?  The writer put forward his idea that libraries “don’t have the same value they used to”.  It caused a public outcry around the world and the post has now been deleted.

It’s hard to know where to start with what is wrong with this idea. One of my favourite memories as a child is of going to the library on Saturday mornings, checking out a huge stack of books, coming home and spreading them across the floor, deciding which one to read first and then digging in to those pages that would take me to another world to meet amazing characters.library2

I love visiting my library now to see pre-schoolers with mum or dad at rhyme time, school children doing research at the desks or older members of the community browsing the shelves or the newspaper stacks.

I often pop in and sit in a comfy chair to read for a little while.  Now of course there are e-books and audio books to download for my phone so I can take my favourite author walking with me each day.library1

There are so many activities on offer that my head spins: book clubs, historical society meetings, computer classes, community legal services, language classes, printing services and a wide variety of talks and presentations.

When my mum was battling cancer, the wonderful librarians at her suburban library chose a selection of books for her each week.  The driver of the bus that drove around to pick up and drop off seniors called in with her books, enabling mum to keep in touch with her reading community.

I have come to understand that a library is not just a place of books; it is a place of people and community.  Thankfully there are enough of us like-minded people to remind economists and others who would wish to close our libraries.