Celebrating Nelson Mandela: His Letters, His Legacy

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To mark the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on 18 July and the publication of The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela (Liveright) on 10 July, English PEN is holding an evening of readings with very special guests on 17 July.

Full event details and booking information available here

Taking place at the Union Chapel in London, the event features letters by Nelson Mandela from his time in prison, most of which have remained unpublished until now. A selection of the letters will be read by an array of high-profile people across literature, politics, journalism and activism, including journalist Gary Younge, poet and novelist Jackie Kay, author and academic Zoe Wicomb, winner of the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry Jay Bernard, actor and artistic director of the Young Vic theatre Kwame Kwei-Armah, and composer Errollyn Wallen.

The evening is directed and produced by Josette Bushell-Mingo OBE. Bushell-Mingo’s career spans 35 years as an award-winning actress and director both internationally and in the UK. She is currently co-artistic director for Riksteatern, Sweden.

They will be joined by the book’s editor Sahm Venter and Zamaswazi Dlamini-Mandela, one of Nelson Mandela’s granddaughters who provided the foreword to the book.

Director of English PEN, Antonia Byatt, says, “English PEN is delighted to be celebrating Nelson Mandela’s legacy of championing human rights. We are thrilled to be joined by leading writers, actors and activists to mark the significance of his years in prison in his centenary year. Today hundreds of writers languish in prison for speaking out, as Mandela did. At PEN we know communication with the outside world for prisoners is crucial; through PEN thousands of people around the world have sent letters to writers in prison to bolster their spirit and to support freedom of expression.”

Editor Sahm Venter, says, “Madiba’s letters are each, on their own, so rich and each one adds to the existing body of knowledge about his life in prison and at times, before he went in. Every piece of writing by Madiba adds a new thread to the existing body of knowledge we have of him and his life and times.”

The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela provides a deeply personal view of Mandela’s period of imprisonment from 1962 to 1990, painting an intimate portrait of a political activist who was as much a devoted husband, adoring father, dedicated student (studying for a law degree behind bars), and abiding friend.

A father of five when he was sentenced to life imprisonment, his letters home became a critical means of parenting in absentia – particularly as he was denied visitation rights until his children had reached the age of sixteen.

During his incarceration, Mandela would pen a multitude of letters to loved ones, compatriots, prison authorities, and government officials. At first he was only allowed to write and receive one letter of five hundred words every six months. Even when restrictions were finally loosened regarding the length and regularity of his correspondence, his jailors continued censoring his letters for political overtones – even innocuous references. The ultimate output reflects the famed Mandela willfulness and resilience; here every word is chosen as if his life depended upon it.

This event will be BSL interpreted.

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