When another writer in another house is not free, no writer is free.
— Orhan Pamuk
“I have never not been aware of restrictions on my speech. Being publically critical of political and religious organizations with a tendency towards militancy while living in Pakistan, to openly declaring myself an apostate while here in Australia, I’ve grown accustomed to death threats and censorious overtures. Which is why I learned about PEN quite early in my writing career. As an organisation, it seemed to include most of my literary role models, and even defended some of them from persecution.”
— Sami Shah

Writers In Exile

Samah Sabawi

Thursday 6 June 2019, 6.15pm-7.15pm at The Wheeler Centre

Bookings required for this free event: https://www.wheelercentre.com/events/samah-sabawi

‘For Palestinian writers, we write for our lives,’ Samah Sabawi has written. ‘We write to exist.’

Sabawi is an award-winning playwright, author, essayist and poet. She’s also a policy advisor for Palestinian policy network Al-Shabaka, and the second featured speaker in our PEN Writing in Exile series.

Sabawi's family left Palestine following Israel's occupation of the Gaza Strip when she was a baby in 1967. She’s lived and worked across the globe throughout her life, but retains strong ties to the place of her birth. In Australia, she’s perhaps best known for her play, Tales of a City by the Sea, which won two Drama Victoria awards in 2016 and has also been rapturously received by audiences in Palestine, Canada and Malaysia. In the same year, the prolific Sabawi contributed to the anthology I Remember My Name, which received Middle East Monitor’s 2016 Palestine Book Award. Her most recent play, THEM, premieres later in May 2019 at the La Mama Courthouse.

Sabawi’s writing is concerned with displacement, conflict and diaspora. ‘Through writing our stories, our poems and songs,’ she has written, ‘we reconstruct our erased past, assert our present and try to shape our future.’ She’ll discuss writing for her life on Thursday 6 June with Sami Shah.


In Memory of Judith Rodriguez



No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani


Kurdish writer and filmmaker Behrouz Boochani has been detained and marooned on Manus Island for five years by the Australian government. Seeking refuge from persecution in his own country, Behrouz has committed no crime, he has  been held without charge. The refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru have suffered the most inhumane conditions and to date twelve have died while in immigration detention. Throughout this time Behrouz has kept writing, under impossible conditions. And now, we have his book - No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison, translated from the Farsi by Omid Tofighian. 

 “A chant, a cry from the heart, a lament, fuelled by a fierce energy, written with the lyricism of a poet, the literary skills of a novelist, and the profound insights of an astute observer of human behaviour and the ruthless politics of a cruel and unjust imprisonment.” Arnold Zable

Richard Flanagan: “(This book)…is a profound victory for a young poet who showed us all how much words can still matter. Australia imprisoned his body, but his soul remained that of a free man.

No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison is available now in all good bookshops.

Make Space Campaign: World Refugee Day 2018

On World Refugee Day 2018 we are highlighting our campaign, Make Space, on displaced and exiled writers. Hear their voices:

'Some of us have been displaced; some of us are refugees and asylum seekers; some of us have lived in exile, or have been forced to go into hiding in our own countries. But we are all writers and use words in ways that can shift and inform the society around us. And – whoever we are, wherever we are - when we consciously make space for the stories of displaced communities within our own, we make space for a shared cultural understanding that enriches us and connects us, disrupting the systems of division that alienate and dehumanise. It is time to act, and to act together.'

At PEN Melbourne we have been supporting Behrouz Boochani, Kurdish-Iranian journalist, writer, and asylum seeker, detained by Australia for years now. Help us fight for Behrouz's freedom by using what we all have: words. Write to those in power, Dutton, Turnbull, Shorten, local members - urge them to free Behrouz, let them know that we care. Follow Behrouz on Twitter

Read his Manus Island poem. '... Forgive me, my love, as I am only able to love you from a remote island / inside the cage / from the corner of this small room'.

You can take action and help Behrouz by writing to the Hon Minister Peter Dutton and the Hon Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull: 

The Hon Peter Dutton MP
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection
PO Box 6022
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Fax: 02 6273 4144
Email: minister@border.gov.au

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP
Prime Minister
PO Box 545 Edgecliff, NSW 2027
Fax: 02 9327 2533
Email: https://www.pm.gov.au/contact-your-pm

Help us tell our politicians that Behrouz and many others should not be caged on remote islands for years. That human rights should be revered. Please download a letter/email template for your convenience. We appreciate your help!

Behrouz Boochani: Recipient of the Empty Chair Award 2018

Writer, refugee, and human rights activist (and an important case for us at PEN Melbourne) @BehrouzBoochani wins the Empty Chair Award! Also, actor and high profile GLBTIQ+ activist @MagdaSzubanski wins the Voltaire Award for 2018! @yassmin_a is the Young Voltaire Award winner. Early bird tickets to the Award dinner on 21 July 2018 on sale now! #Voltaire2018

For more details check out libertyvictoria.org.au

Behrouz Boochani Update

Photograph: Twitter

Photograph: Twitter

PEN Melbourne committee member and renowned writer Arnold Zable has been in close contact with PEN International who are currently preparing a statement about Behrouz.  Arnold is also working with them on a project to make Behrouz a special case for Human Rights Day on December 10. This will include posting his articles on the PEN International website, an arrangement which will enable PEN centres to show the film Chauka Please tell us the time, and other materials.

Please read the comprehensive Guardian article regarding the events of the day: Refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani released after arrest on Manus

Also from The Guardian, read about Behrouz's ordeal in his own words: Manus police pulled my hair and beat me. 'You've damaged our reputation', they said.

Boochani held by PNG’s paramilitary Mobile Squad and says he was pushed, had his belongings broken and was accused of ‘reporting against us’

Liu Xiaobo: An exceptional life, always remembered

The PEN community is deeply saddened by the death of dissident writer, Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC) member and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, soon after his release from prison following his diagnosis of late-stage liver cancer. Xiaobo passed away on Thursday, July 13. Xiaobo had led an exceptional live and will always be remembered. More about it on PEN International News page. 

The Mildura Indigenous Writers Award is coming soon

For more information check out our upcoming events, and if you're eligible submit a piece by June 30! The last two years had been great and we are looking forward to more original writing. Oh, and the winner takes home $1200 and gets published in our Quarterly!

PEN International taking on Behrouz Boochani's case

Photo credit: Saba Vasefi, Facebook

We are excited to let you know that Behrouz Boochani's case has now been officially taken by PEN International and they have published his campaign letter on their website: http://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/australia-process-kurdish-iranian-journalists-asylum-claim/

To read or download the full letter please click here

Behrouz has been detained for over three years now, waiting for his case to be heard by Australian authorities. In his poem, recently published by Cordite Poetry Review, Behrouz tells about the realities of his days:

Untitled / Berhrouz Boochani / Manus Island

Here, in the neighbourhood of the people who stare for twenty-four hours solely at walls and metal, the presence of animals is a virtue; That flock of birds gliding at night under the dramatic moon creates a magical and striking scene in our minds; So to the orchestra of frogs that have no home except a lagoon that clings to the ocean; Shunning the ocean as they grow old, the eldest crabs sink into the damp mud under the fences and after a while drift into a deep sleep; Slithering under the fences curious snakes sometimes enter the prison like strangers and usually lose their lives for their innocent trespass; When the unique fish-eating eagle with a white neck dives into the ocean bed it catches a big fish; Colourful parrots love to hold their family, gathering on the tallest coconut trees. Here animals are the finest elements in the mind of a lonely prisoner who has no interests but the sky, the ocean and the jungle, all beyond the fences.

For the poem on Cordite's website please click here.

PEN Melbourne

The PEN Melbourne Centre is one of 147 PEN International centres worldwide whose members are united in a common concern for the art of writing and freedom of expression. As an affiliate of PEN International, PEN Melbourne brings writers together from across cultures to share experiences, explore ideas and conduct public conversations about how literature transforms, influences and fosters cross-cultural exchange. PEN Melbourne focuses on women writers, Indigenous Australian writers, writers in prison, and has an interest in the Asia and Pacific region. It campaigns on behalf of persecuted and silenced writers and lets them know they are not alone. PEN Melbourne’s publication The Quarterly provides a forum for members to publish relevant works.

As writers in many countries continue to be silenced the work of PEN is needed more than ever.

If you are a writer, involved in the literary community or share an interest in human rights, you are welcome to join PEN Melbourne as a member.

People say that (writers) are pretty powerless: we don’t have an army, we don’t have a bureaucracy. But if that were true, then why would writers be arrested?... Because the spoken word is powerful.
— John Ralston Saul on the work of PEN International

Founded in 1921 to promote literature and freedom of expression, this global community of writers now spans more than 100 countries. PEN International is a non-political organisation which holds Special Consultative Status at the UN and Associate Status at UNESCO. Each PEN centre acts independently but maintains strong links with headquarters in London and with other centres. The organisation works locally, regionally and internationally to understand the needs of writers and to protect them.