Turkey: writers and translators call for release of leading linguist Necmiye Alpay

English PEN and our Writers in Translation Committee are proud to join colleagues from PEN America, PEN International, PEN Turkey and CEATL

Bekir Bozdağ, Minister of Justice, Turkey

CC: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Turkey

Dear Minister Bozdağ:

We the undersigned translators, writers, editors, publishers, journalists, bloggers, artists, and free expression advocates around the world, in solidarity with the Turkish Association of Translators (ÇEVBİR) and with the support of PEN America, PEN International, English PEN, PEN Turkey, and the Conseil Européen des Associations de Traducteurs Littéraires (CEATL), are writing to express our concern at the arrest and imprisonment of translator, editor, critic, author, and linguist Necmiye Alpay, and at the crackdown on peaceful dissent in Turkey in the wake of the attempted coup of July 2016.

On August 31, 2016, as part of an ongoing investigation into the closed daily Özgür Gündem, Istanbul’s Eighth Criminal Court of Peace ordered the arrest of Alpay on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization and disrupting the unity of the state. She denies all charges against her. We believe that Alpay is being held solely for the peaceful exercise of her right to free expression and we call for her immediate and unconditional release.

Alpay received her B.A. degree from Ankara University and her Ph.D. degree from Paris University at Nanterre. Her translations into Turkish include works by Said, Girard, Ricoeur, and Marchand. She has devoted much of her career to improving the quality of written Turkish, and has penned several books on the subject. She has also worked as an editor for various periodicals and is a regular contributor to several newspapers.

Necmiye Alpay has always been a staunch defender of free expression and a voice calling for peace. As such she was a member of the advisory board of the pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem, a position she held as a symbol of her support for free expression. On August 16, the Turkish state shut down the newspaper temporarily for “supporting terrorism,” and since then, everyone involved with Özgür Gündem has been under investigation. Turkish officials have charged Alpay with “being a member of an armed terrorist group” and have imprisoned her awaiting trial, on the pretext that “she might flee.”

Alpay is just one of many academics, writers, and journalists who have been jailed awaiting trial. Her imprisonment is a politically motivated move by the Turkish state to silence voices calling for a peaceful resolution of the ongoing conflict. Minister Bozdağ, we urge you:

1. To release Necmiye Alpay immediately, along with writer Aslı Erdoğan and the other journalists and employees of Özgür Gündem who have been detained.

2. To stop your government’s suppression of peaceful dissent and free expression for individuals and the media, and to end harassment and persecution of intellectuals and other members of civil society who support a peaceful solution to the ongoing conflict in Turkey.

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Alex Zucker, cochair, PEN America Translation Committee
Allison Markin Powell, cochair, PEN America Translation Committee
Raficq Abdulla, writer
Alev Adil, writer
Joel Agee, writer, translator
Esther Allen, translator
Pete Ayrton, editor
Susan Bernofsky, translator and writer
Wayles Browne, linguist and translator
Nick Caistor, translator, journalist
Margaret Carson, translator, professor of Modern Languages, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY
Robert Chandler, translator of Vasily Grossman
Jessica Cohen, translator
Jonathan Cohen, translator, member of PEN America Translation Committee
Peter Cole, poet and translator
David Constantine, writer and translator
Margaret Jull Costa, translator
Sasha Dugdale, editor, Modern Poetry in Translation
Ellen Elias-Bursac, literary translator
Miranda France, writer and translator
Maureen Freely, president of English PEN
Forrest Gander, writer, translator
Lynn Gaspard, publisher
Edith Grossman, translator
Daniel Hahn, writer and translator, English PEN
Nicky Harman, co-chair, UK Translators Association
Adina Hoffman, writer
Amanda Hopkinson, translator, writer, professor of literary translation
Pierre Joris, poet, essayist, translator
Suzanne Jill Levine, writer, translator, professor, University of California
Tess Lewis, translator, member of PEN America Translation Committee
Toby Lichtig, editor
Antonia Lloyd-Jones, co-chair, UK Translators Association
Canan Marasligil, translator
Michael F. Moore, translator
Mary Ann Newman, translator, member of PEN America Translation Committee
Lulu Norman, translator
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, translators
Samantha Schnee, chair of English PEN’s Writers in Translation Committee
Marian Schwartz, translator
Ros Schwartz, translator, member of English PEN
Rebecca Servadio, literary scout
Katherine Silver, translator
Simona Škrabec, chair, PEN International’s Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee
Sandra Smith, translator, member of PEN America Translation Committee
Burhan Sönmez, writer and translator
Caroline Stockford, translator & Wales PEN Cymru
Cole Swensen, poet, translator
Russell Valentino, translator, professor of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures, Indiana University
Rosmarie Waldrop, poet and translator
Shaun Whiteside, translator

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PEN Atlas: imagining Iraq in 2103

Forthcoming Comma Press anthology Iraq+100, edited by award-winning writer Hassan Blasim, features sci-fi imaginings of a future Iraq, a century on from the disastrous Anglo-American invasion. Here, a contributor reveals the meaning behind the title and implication of their story.

Read this week’s PEN Atlas

Iraq+100 will be published on 27 October 2016.

Award-winning author and Iraq+100 editor Hassan Blasim and a number of the book’s contributors will appear at an event at Southbank Centre as part of the London Literature Festival on Saturday 15 October. Find out more and book tickets.

2017 PEN Hessell-Tiltman prize open for submissions

Entrants are to be books of high literary merit – that is, not primarily written for the academic market – and can cover all historical periods.

Publishers may draw attention to no more than two relevant books on their lists or imprints. The books must be published between 1 January and 31 December 2016.

They should be notified to the Administrator at hesselltiltman@englishpen.org and finished or proof copies must be available by 2 December 2016, the closing date for submissions. Four copies of each title, clearly marked PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize, should be sent directly to English PEN’s office at the Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA by this date.

The shortlist will be revealed in April 2017.

Judges will be announced shortly and the winner will be revealed at a high profile event in July 2017.

Further information about the prize and its rules can be found at:

In memory of Richard McKane

English PEN was deeply saddened by the death of the poet and translator Richard McKane, a hugely dedicated member of PEN. Here fellow PEN members and staff pay tribute to a dear friend who will be greatly missed. 

Moris Farhi, writer and Vice President of PEN International, mourns his beloved friend:

I hereby stand witness to Richard McKane. I do so in the Biblical sense of the word which connotes recognition of an individual’s goodness.

“Rich”, as I always called him in awe of the opulent luminosity his life bestowed on the lives of the legions of people who met him, was my spiritual brother. He will remain so for ever.

One needed but a brief look at his eyes to ascertain that here was a special person who, despite his frailty and vulnerability, had bravely chronicled – sometimes in despair, at other times with hope and elation – the gruelling journey life imposes on everybody. I believe Rich embodied one of those “little Christs” that, as Mauriac infers, shoulder sufferance like Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant”. A “little Christ” – not so little in Rich’s case – who defies evil and endeavours to defeat it with all the felicity that life also provides.

Yes, Rich had the gift to embrace felicity. His abandoned laughter in convivial gatherings, his wonderment at the beauty that is everywhere around us, his hoorays when his work – both literary and humanitarian – bore heart-warming results, and, above all, his great love for his daughter, Juliet, his brother Christopher, and their respective families, are proofs of that gift.

In universal terms, it was Rich’s stoic endurance of suffering – his own and those of others – twinned with his Ethical Self’s conviction that dignity, peace, and the pursuit of happiness are humankind’s birth rights that made him not only an accomplished poet but also the English voice of some of the greatest poets of our times.

I once wrote that Rich, while possessing a soul that is the envy of many poets, also had three other equally enviable souls. How else, I posited, could he fathom the innermost reaches of the Russian dolour and  élan vital in the works of Pushkin, Gumilyov, Akhmatova, Pasternak, Mandelstam, Aranzon et al, and then move on to explore the equally depthless yearnings of the Turkish psyche in the works of Hikmet, Dağlarca, Rıfat, Yücel and others? Moreover, as if all those splendours were not sufficient, how else could he further endow us with offerings from Uzbek, Azeri, Czech, Swedish and Greek masters?

Some Turkish writers addressed him as babayiğit – literally paladin-father – in recognition of his unbounded love for family, friends, compeers, and humankind. And it was his urgency to transport this endless love to a better world that drove him to English PEN and, particularly, to its Writers in Prison Committee. And there he toiled to prompt social conscience to dispense care to those needy as well as to a planet which rapacious imperia are destroying with impunity. I can attest that his work in defence of universal human rights, his campaigns against abuses of power, his advocacy of freedom of expression in every artistic discipline, remains legendary both in English PEN and in many other PEN Centres.

An ancient belief to which I adhere declares that “Death is a lie”, that when our souls leave this world, they go to other worlds which, in Kabbalistic cognition, are in need of “repairs” just like ours. The belief is akin to Dylan Thomas’ immortal phrase, “death shall have no dominion”. Simply put, it reassures us that in every ending there is a beginning.

And that means, dearest Rich, you are now at a new beginning. I can envision you, cocooned in eternal light, inspire with love, fortitude and adamantine determination the inhabitants of another troubled blue dot in the Universe to repair their world as you have inspired us to repair ours.

So Farewell, my brave lovely brother. All your loved ones, all who revere you as a role model – including myself – will meet you again. Sometime. Somewhere. In another dimension.

Alev Adil, writer and former member of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, pays tribute to ‘a great and gentle soul’:

Richard McKane had a great and gentle soul. He is a poet, a translator of international renown, in both Russian and Turkish, and was a campaigner for freedom expression and victims of torture. Richard had a brilliant mind, and his translations, for instance of Akhmatova, Mandelstam and Hikmet, are outstanding. He was a great translator because as well as a brilliant mind he had a huge heart full of love and empathy. We became friends when I was on the English PEN Writers in Prison committee. He was a wonderful vice chair who inspired us with his commitment and collaborative spirit. He campaigned for  Asiye Guzel’s release from prison, translated her account of her ordeal as a political prisoner in Turkey, Asiye’s Story, and worked with Mai Ghoussoub at Saqi Books, who published it in 2003. He also worked with victims of torture for over eighteen years as an interpreter from, and into, Turkish and Russian at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. He felt the pain of others’ so keenly, and always showed such courage in the face of his own. He was a very lovely friend,so kind, intelligent and sensitive. The world is a darker place without his shining presence.

Lucy Popescu, former Director of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, shares memories of working with Richard:

I was greatly saddened to hear of Richard’s death.

I worked with him for many years on the Writers in Prison Committee and he was a tireless campaigner, a great support and a good friend. He had a huge heart and I found Richard to be one of the most humane people I have ever met. I learned a lot from him and he introduced many of us on the committee to Helen Bamber and the work of the then Medical Foundation (now Freedom from Torture) where he also volunteered. He was great fun to be with, erudite and a wonderful poet and translator. I know that he will be much missed by many of us in the PEN world and beyond.

Ekaterina Turchaninova of Russian PEN on Richard’s contribution to mutual understanding between countries:


The death of Richard McKane is a great loss. Russian PEN-center mourns with you. I didn’t have the occasion to be personally acquainted with Richard, but I heard a lot of enthusiastic words about him from the Director General of the Russian PEN Alexander Tkachenko. Richard translated his poetry and helped to arrange his readings in London. After Tkachenko’s death I have been corresponding with Richard for several years, and it was a great pleasure to read his kind, sympathetic and very interesting emails. He was a great friend of the Russian PEN center. His contribution to mutual understanding between our countries is very important, he translated into English many Russian poets, from Mandelstam and Gumilyov to modern poets, members of the Russian PEN Larissa Miller and Olga Sedakova. Eternal memory!

If you would like to send a tribute or memory to be included, please email cat@englishpen.org. Please also join Richard’s friends and family for his funeral at 11am on Friday 7 October at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, and the reception that follows. All friends are warmly welcome.

Murder of writer demonstrates urgent need for end to religious insult laws

The killing of Jordanian writer Nahid Hattar outside a court where he was due to stand trial for alleged ‘insult to Islam’ and ‘provoking sectarian strife’ is a clear demonstration why religious insult laws should be repealed without delay.

Nahid Hattar, a 56-year-old member of Jordan’s Christian minority was reportedly shot dead by Riyadh Ismail Abdullah, a local imam who was arrested at the scene. Hattar was facing trial for a cartoon he had posted on Facebook which authorities said was insulting to Islam.

Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International, said:

The board of PEN International, who were meeting when we received this shocking news, are all appalled to hear of this brutal attack, which came as PEN members around the world gather in Ourense, Spain at the invitation of Galician PEN for our annual Congress where we debate current free speech issues and campaign for persecuted writers.

Our hearts are with Nahid Hatter’s family and we pledge to continue to give voice to killed and persecuted writers, wherever they are.

Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee, said:

Hattar’s murder is the latest in a string of killings of writers for alleged religious reasons, from the Charlie Hebdo killings in France to the killings of free-thinking bloggers in Bangladesh and attacks on writers in India by extremist Hindu nationalists.

Use of these laws is making targets of writers, cartoonists, journalists and others who are merely exercising their right to freedom of expression. States now have the clearest possible signal to stop bringing such charges and instead to take seriously the obligation to protect freedom of expression – which includes speech which some may find offensive.

Jo Glanville, director of English PEN, said:

We condemn this appalling murder as an attack on freedom of expression and freedom of belief.  The Jordanian authorities must act swiftly to reassure its citizens that it can protect their human rights.  First, it must bring the perpetrator of this crime to justice.  And second, it should pledge to abolish blasphemy laws and end such prosecutions, which only encourage and enable violence.