In memory of Naomi May

English PEN remembers Naomi May, a valued member of our Writers in Prison Committee for many years, and a staunch supporter of imprisoned writers around the world

Naomi first joined English PEN in 1989, at the invitation of the late Josephine Pullein-Thompson, having been proposed by Diana Farr and seconded by Isabel Quigly.

The author of three novels – At Home, The Adventurer, and Troubles – as well as short stories, and numerous articles, Naomi will primarily be remembered by her friends at PEN for her warmth and incredible dedication to individual writers in prison around the world.

Naomi was a committed correspondent with writers at risk, writing regularly to prisoners from China to Cuba, Saudi Arabia to Sierra Leone. She was also a particularly resourceful member of the committee: her piece Experience of a WiPC minder details how, when she first received a letter from the wife of activist Jiang Qisheng typewritten in Chinese, ‘the unexpected solution was an oral translation by a waiter in a local Chinese restaurant’.

Naomi’s continued support for Jiang Qisheng and Cuban writer Jorge Olivera Castillo, long after they were released from their respective prison sentences, was invaluable to both writers. Thanks to Naomi’s tireless efforts, Jorge was offered a scholarship at Harvard University. Meanwhile, due to the generosity and persistence of Naomi and her husband Nigel, the English translation of Jiang Qisheng’s My Life in Prison: Memoirs of a Chinese Political Dissident was finally published in 2012. Her unwavering support for and friendship with the exiled Iranian journalist Yousef Azizi throughout his claim for asylum here in the UK and in the years since was an inspiration.

We were extremely sad to learn of Naomi’s death on Monday 14 July, but relieved to hear from her husband Nigel that she remained very much herself to the end. She will be greatly missed by us all.

Read tributes from PEN members 

**There will be a family committal followed by a thanksgiving service at St Mary Magdalene in Paradise Road, Richmond, TW9 1SN next Wednesday 23 July at 12 noon – all are welcome. If you would be interested in joining us in remembering Naomi or would like to add a tribute to our website, please email **


About Cat Lucas

Cat Lucas is English PEN's Writers at Risk Programme Manager

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