Today is the annual observation of the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, created by International PEN, to recognize and support writers who resist suppression of the basic human right to freedom of expression. It was started in 1981 by International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee.
Also this week PEN Center USA, located in Los Angeles, holds its annual Lit Awards, at which Ethiopian journalist Sisay Agena will be awarded this year's Freedom to Write Award. He will not be able to attend because he is in prison in Ethiopia. You can find out more about Agena's situation at the PEN Center USA website, at the link above.
Recently I have read How to Read the Air, by Dinaw Mengestu, son of Ethiopian immigrants to America, as well as Cutting For Stone, by Abraham Verghese, a novel set in Ethiopia. In October, on my plane trip to Florida, I sat next to an Ethiopian woman who was visiting the United States for the first time and wanted more than anything to move here with her two daughters. I learned that life for women in Ethiopia is not good at all. The thought of standing up to or defying her husband in any way brought a look of intense fear to her face.
Here I am, safe in my home, reading and writing whatever I please. I am married to a man who respects me and whom I respect. I can meet other readers and discuss books anytime I want. Reading about the number of journalists and writers who are imprisoned around the world, even as close by as Mexico, makes me realize that we better not take our freedoms for granted.