PEN members pay tribute to Naomi May

Author Naomi May was a long-standing supporter of English PEN and a dedicated member of our Writers in Prison Committee. Here we share the memories of some of the many friends Naomi made since joining PEN back in 1989

She was an utterly wonderful woman, full of insight and good sense, a real treasure on the old Writers in Prison Committee.  We all remember her with great fondness.

Lisa Appignanesi

A very, very nice person who, I am quite sure, was a lifeline to many.

Jeremy Cameron

A South American tribe claims that ‘Death is a lie!’ It is very difficult to find solace in that wise belief as we mourn, with the heaviest of hearts, our dear friend – I feel like saying ‘our sister’ – Naomi May. Her death, so soon after the demise of the wonderful Josephine, might make us feel as if an era in English PEN is coming to an end. But, of course, in every ending there is a beginning and it is in this context that those who insist ‘Death is a lie’ touch the truth. Naomi, one of PEN’s most diligent and indefatigable campaigners for freedom of expression and human rights, will, I am sure, not only stay forever in the hearts and minds of those of us who have had the privilege to love and admire her and work with her, but also will inspire, with her exemplary achievements, a new and caring generation. And they will keep loving her as we will.

Moris Farhi

Naomi was a very special member of English PEN. In her softly spoken way, she was determined to transcend the injustices that saw writers imprisoned around the world, by offering such prisoners moral support, by standing up on their behalf to the authorities, in Britain and around the world, and by ensuring that their writing received a wide audience. Her oversight of the translation of Jiang Qisheng’s prison diaries was a model of perseverance in the face of numerous setbacks. That translation embodies her dedication to the world’s imprisoned writers, not as an abstract political cause but as a very human act of friendship and loyalty.

Jonathan Heawood

I knew Naomi only fairly briefly, but greatly admired her combination of determination and gentleness. I can imagine how much she will be missed. by those close to her.

Eva Hoffman

Naomi epitomised commitment to the cause of freeing writers from the oppressions of authoritarian regimes, and gave younger generations of English PEN members, and staff, a model of how to work with patience, diligence and modesty for victories that were neither immediate nor noisy. She truly appreciated the literary works of those she championed, and among those who will miss her most will be imprisoned recipients of her PEN cards and letters, unable to send their tributes.

Ophelia Field, former Director of the Writers in Prison Programme, English PEN

What sad news. A great support to me both personally and professionally when I was director of the WiPC. She will be much missed.

Lucy Popescu

Read our piece in memory of Naomi and her work with writers in prison around the world

Read a tribute from Carole Seymour-Jones, former chair of the Writers in Prison Committee

**There will be a family committal followed by a thanksgiving service at Richmond Parish Church 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, please email **

About Cat Lucas

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

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