Freedom to Read Week – persecuted writers

Brown University is doing a good thing and thanks everyone who continues to sponsor and fund their International Writers Project. They offer one year fellowships to authors who’ve been challenged in their own countries over their writing. They’ve been running it for twenty years and would like it to continue.

Funding a year-long fellowship costs about $70,000, said Robert Coover, visiting professor of literary arts and director of the project. It provides health benefits, a stipend and living expenses for the fellow and the fellow’s family. That figure also includes funds to remove the fellow from his or her country of origin and, if necessary, from prison.

The fellowship gives persecuted intellectuals a safe space to further their work. The fellow is also given an office at the Watson Institute for International Studies.

The program was first funded by former University President Vartan Gregorian, then by the William H. Donner Foundation and a combination of anonymous grants.

They’d like to have a permanent endowment for this venture at some point but until then they’ll take all the money people are willing to give them to keep this running. As an additional fund raiser, they organize a festival each year to celebrate the art and culture of whatever region the current fellow comes from. It’ll be Cambodia this year.

“I have an office to write, send my writings to my students in Cambodia, write for the blogs and media for people to read them,” said Kho Tararith, this year’s fellow. Tararith is a Cambodian poet, writer, publisher and educator whose writings and promotion of human rights and democracy in Cambodia had attracted death threats and verbal attacks at home. He also helped to found PEN-Cambodia, an international organization that promotes freedom of expression and condemns censorship.

Three cheers for that, then, and good luck to them.

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