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Speaking the Truth when it's Dangerous: A Salute to Writers

Very wise words from Francine Prose in the NYTimes Book Review, July 20, 2014, pg. 35 when asked “What are the last literary taboos?”

“The chance of some worthy books failing to find a publisher doesn’t seem all that drastic compared with what regularly occurs in countries where literary taboos are still taken very seriously indeed. The websites of PEN American Center and the Committee to Protect Journalists documents the fates of writers who are accused of “spreading false rumors” in Ethiopia, or who keep a blog criticizing the Chinese government, or publish a pro-Kurdish article in Turkey, or irritate the kingpin of a Mexican drug cartel. Yet even when writers know the consequences – imprisonment, torture and death – they persist in defying the taboo, especially when the first and last taboo is against telling the truth.

Take, for instance, Mohammed ibn al -Dheeb al-Ajami, sentenced to life in prison for writing a poem that the Qatari government considered subversive.

Or Nguyen Xuan Nghia, imprisoned in Vietnam since 2009 for poems and stories read as critical of the government.
Or the Tibetan writer Doma Kyab, reportedly in poor health, location unknown, after being moved from China’s Chusul Prison.
Or Ethiopia’s Eskinder Nega, a journalist and essayist convicted on terrorism charges and sentenced to 18 years.
Or Liu Xiaobo, whose Nobel Peace Prize Chinese officials marked by placing his wife under house arrest.
Or even Roger Shuler the rogue blogger who did time in Alabama after posting a story alleging that a former Republican governor’s son had an affair with a lobbyist.
If we ask them whether taboos still exist, they would say yes, they do; there will always be taboos as long as the powerful are allowed to define what writers are forbidden to write.”

“…If there are literary taboos, they’re not being imposed by writers or readers, and certainly not by puritanical culture. But I wonder if a chilling effect is being exerted by commerce, by the groupthink of corporate publishing urging editors and publishers to temper their individual passion for books in the interests of the company’s need to maintain and maximize profits.”

#censorship, #Francine Prose, #New York Times, #Committee to Protect Journalists, #JessWells
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