PEN Atlas Q&A: Peter Stamm

Peter Stamm is one of Switzerland’s best-known writers. Renowned for his precise, economical style and sharp psychological insight, he has won many prizes at home and abroad. This month, Granta Books is publishing both his novel All Days Are Night and his collection of short stories We Are Flying.

In this PEN Atlas Q&A, editor Tasja Dorkofikis asks about the curation of a self-image, Stamm’s literary influences and his experimentations with form.

This interview was translated by Katy Derbyshire.

Take action for Writers at Risk on World Book Night

On 23 April, English PEN will be joining thousands of individuals, organisations and institutions across the UK to celebrate the fifth year of World Book Night and to give books to those that need them the most.

To mark World Book Night 2015, we will once again be sending books to writers at risk around the world, and asking members and supporters to do the same. Over the last four years, World Book Night titles have reached writers in prison from Turkey to Vietnam. This year we hope to reach even more writers worldwide, including novelist and poet Omar Hazek, currently imprisoned in Egypt; veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu, sentenced to seven years in prison last week; and academic Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace, currently on hunger strike in Bahrain.

In light of our recent Books for Prisoners campaign, we will also be sending books to prisons here in the UK this year. Whilst the restrictions on sending books to family and friends in UK prisons were eased earlier this year, we are still hearing from people who are having difficulties getting books to their loved ones. We are therefore continuing to support initiatives such as the Book Rooms at Wormwood Scrubs to help increase the availability of books, and urge our members to consider doing the same.

You don’t have to be an official World Book Night giver to send a book. In fact, in order to maximise the number of readers reached in their fifth year, the World Book Night team is encouraging as many people as possible to take part by donating a book of their choice:

In order to reach even more readers, this year World Book Night are encouraging as many people as possible to give books away on 23 April. We only have a limited supply of World Book Night books, so we’d love you to provide and give out any book you choose on the night – one you already own, or one you buy specially. You can also choose whoever you want to give the book to – a friend, a member of your community, a complete stranger. Tell us about your choice here and on Twitter and Facebook.

And our book of choice? This year, we will be sending some of the titles our Writers in Translation programme has supported over the last ten years. If you would like to send one of these – and perhaps read one yourself! – do visit our dedicated website, English PEN’s World Bookshelf.

Join us in sending books this World Book Night – email for details.

Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize open for submissions

This year’s Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize is open for entry. The prize recognises the achievements of young translators at the start of their careers, and for 2015 our language is Polish.

Entrants will translate the short story ‘Tatuaż’ by Maciej Miłkowski, and our judges will be journalist and deputy director of English PEN Catherine Taylor, the translator Antonia Lloyd-Jones, the Polish-born author Eva Hoffman and editor Ellie Steel. The prize is open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 34, with no restriction on country of residence, and the deadline for entries is 31st July 2015.

The winner’s name will be announced in October, and he or she will receive £1,000, an invaluable mentorship with Antonia, which is being supported by Writers’ Centre Norwich and the Polish Cultural Institute, and they’ll also be invited to Crossing Border festival in the Hague in November 2015.

The story and details on how to enter are available at

PEN Translates: open for submissions

English PEN is delighted to announce that the latest season of PEN Translates is now open for submissions. PEN Translates helps UK publishers to meet the costs of translating new works into English – whilst ensuring translators are acknowledged and paid properly for their work. The grant is part of English PEN’s Writers in Translation programme, established in 2005 and supported by Bloomberg and Arts Council England to champion the best literature from around the world. The deadline for PEN Translates applications is Monday 1st June 2015. Please see here for further information.

China: Gao Yu sentenced to seven years in prison

Veteran journalist Gao Yu, an Honorary Director of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, has been sentenced to seven years in prison for ‘leaking state secrets abroad’. Gao Yu was sentenced by the Beijing Third  Intermediate People’s Court on 17 April 2015 during a largely closed trial which had lasted nearly five months. Gao Yu denied the charge and is expected to appeal the verdict at the Beijing Municipal High People’s Court.

Gao Yu, now 71-years-old, went missing on 24 April 2014.  No information concerning her fate was released until 8 May 2014 when the official Chinese news agency Xinhua confirmed that she was detained by Beijing police. Footage of her ‘confessing’, which she later said was taken under duress after police threatened to arrest her son, was shown on state television and used as evidence in court. There are serious concerns for her health and well-being in prison.

English PEN joins PEN International and fellow centres around the world in calling for Gao Yu’s conviction to be quashed and for her immediate and unconditional release. Join us.


Share details of her case

Help PEN to raise awareness of Gao Yu’s case by sharing with your friends and contacts on social media, and writing articles for local and national media. #GaoYu

Send a message of support

If you would like to send a message of support to Gao Yu you can do so via

Send appeals to the Chinese authorities

Write to the Chinese authorities and to the Chinese Embassy in London to call for Gao Yu’s immediate release. Addresses and further details available here.


According to PEN International’s information, Beijing-based veteran dissident journalist Gao Yu was convicted of ‘leaking state secrets abroad’ and sentenced to seven years in prison on 17 April 2015. During her trial, which began behind closed doors on 21 November 2014 only the prosecutors, Gao’s lawyers, the judges and court staff and a few court police were present owing to the nature of the charges laid against her. Gao Yu is expected to appeal the conviction, according to an interview with her lawyer published in Deutsche Welle.

Recent reports also raise concerns for Gao Yu’s health. Gao Yu, who suffers from Menière’s Disease, has also suffered severe gastroenteritis while in prison. PEN is concerned that the medical care that she is receiving is inadequate.

Detained on 24 April 2014, she was formally arrested on 30 May, however, her detention was not officially confirmed until 8 May. Gao, aged 70, went missing on 23 April 2014, when she last made contact with Deutsche Welle, a German newspaper for which she is a special contributor. At the time of her disappearance she was writing a column titled “Party Nature vs. Human Nature”, which is said to focus on the new leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and its internal conflicts. The article was never submitted, and when Gao did not attend as scheduled a 26 April event in Beijing to commemorate the anti-government protests on 4 June 1989 which were brutally suppressed, friends reported her disappearance. Gao had also been due to travel to Hong Kong to speak at the annual awards ceremony of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC), of which she is a member, on 3 May.

On 8 May 2014 officials confirmed that she was being held by Beijing police in a criminal investigation for allegedly ‘leaking state secrets abroad’ over a secret document leaked to editors of a foreign website in August 2013. According to Gao’s lawyer, the charges are based on a document known as “Document Number 9″, which Ms Gao had written about last year. The document is said to detail the government’s vision of pushing economic reforms while maintaining ideological controls concerning issues such as democracy, civil society and freedom of press.

The same day, Gao appeared in a televised ‘confession’ shown on China’s national broadcaster CCTV in an early morning news programme. The report blurred out her face but showed her full name, ending speculation over her whereabouts two weeks after she disappeared. Gao said ‘I admit that what I’ve done touched on legal issues and threatened national interests.’ She said she was ‘deeply remorseful’ of her actions and ‘willing to accept legal punishment’. Gao Yu later clarified that this ‘confession’ had been extracted under duress after police threatened to arrest her son. The right to a fair trial, as enshrined in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights includes the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty and not to be compelled to testify against oneself or to confess guilt.

According to her lawyer, Mo Shaoping, in the interview with Deutsche Welle, the court took into consideration Gao’s ‘confession’ during their deliberation, in contravention of Chinese law that dictates that evidence obtained under duress must be thrown out and must not be considered when passing a verdict. Furthermore, her sentence comes despite evidence submitted to court which asserted that the supposed recipient of Document 9, He Pin of Mirror Publishing, had not received the document from Gao Yu.

Gao Yu was formerly the chief editor of Economics Weekly before being barred from publishing. She was first arrested on 3 June 1989 for an article she wrote for a Hong Kong newspaper supporting student protesters in Tiananmen Square, and was imprisoned for over a year. She spent a further five and a half years in prison from 1993-99 for ‘providing state secrets to parties outside [China’s] borders’ in a series of political and economic articles in Hong Kong-based publications. Gao is known for her fiercely critical political analysis and knowledge of the inner circles of the Chinese Communist Party.

She has continued to work in China as a freelance journalist in spite of considerable restriction and pressure. Gao Yu contributed an essay to PEN’s 2013 report Creativity and Constraint in Today’s China. She is an honorary director of ICPC and an honorary member of Czech PEN, Danish PEN and Swedish PEN. Her case was used as an emblematic case during PEN’s campaigning for International Women’s Day 2015 and the Day of the Imprisoned Writer 2014.

As a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides for freedom of legitimate expression, the right not to be arbitrarily detained and the right to a fair trial, China is obliged to ‘refrain from acts that would defeat or undermine the treaty’s objective and purpose.’