Breaking through the Silence

On 9 July 2009, English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee and the John Armitage Memorial Trust (JAM) held a concert at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, in honour of persecuted and imprisoned writers worldwide, and with a particular focus on Burma.


The excellent Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge and Onyx Brass performed two incredibly moving JAM commissions – Thoughts Scribbled on a Blank Wall (lyrics by John McCarthy) and No Answer (lyrics by Chris Abani) – as well as Michael Tippett’s amazing Five Negro Spirituals from Child of Our Time.


These performances were interspersed with readings from the work of persecuted and imprisoned Burmese writers Aung San Suu Kyi, Zargana, Min Ko Naing, Ma Thida and U Win Tin, performed by comedians Jo Brand and Reece Shearsmith, poet Ruth Padel, TV chef Clarissa Dickson Wright and biographer Carole Seymour-Jones. Timberlake Wertenbaker gave an inspiring keynote address on the subject of Freedom.

It was a stunning event, greatly appreciated by the members of the audience, many of whom have got in touch with congratulations. Here is just one of the many emails we have received since the concert, from Aung San Suu Kyi’s sister-in-law, Lucinda Phillips:


Just a quick note to thank you for the concert last night. I know that one of my Burmese friends, who knows many of the writers concerned, was very moved and will take back the message to Rangoon that the Burmese really do have a lot of support outside their unhappy country and that they are not forgotten.

To read Melissa Benn’s article, ‘Facing down persecution’, published on Liberty Central on 8 July 2009, please click here.  


To read Caspar Walsh’s article, ‘John McCarthy’s libretto tells a thousand news stories’, published on Joe Public on 8 July 2009, please click here.

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