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About the Project

Historically, writers have played an important role in exposing brutality and corruption throughout the world — the work of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, for example, cast a harsh light on the practices of exile and repression in the former Soviet Union. Yet the state-sponsored suppression of writers has not ended with the demise of the Cold War and the collapse of communism. As civil war and ethnic and religious conflicts escalate world-wide, writers pursuing their art continue to play a vital role in exposing governmental wrongs — and they continue to face oppression and suppression. As recently as 1989, the Iranian government condemned Indian writer Salman Rushdie to death for criticizing Islam in his novel The Satanic Verses. Rushdie’s exile — which continued for ten years, during which he nonetheless wrote and published his work — drew international attention to the plight of writers working in repressive regimes, and to the importance of protecting their freedom of expression. Nonetheless, more than a third of the world’s people today live in countries where there is no freedom of the press. Writers continue to face censorship and persecution for their art throughout the world. PEN International’s current case list of writers and journalists attacked, killed or imprisoned because of their work includes 877 individual cases — all documented during 2008 alone.

Since 2003, the International Writers Project Fellowship at Brown University has provided institutional, artistic and social support to writers who face personal danger, oppression, and/or threats to their livelihood in nations throughout the world. The fellowship, sponsored by a grant from the William H. Donner Foundation, is awarded annually to a writer who is unable to practice free expression in his or her homeland. This year’s recipient is Ma Thida, a Burmese novelist and surgeon imprisoned for her work in her nation’s pro-democracy movement. IWP festivals, like There Will Still Be Light, celebrate the cultural heritage of the IWP Fellow and seek to increase awareness of the situation of international writers worldwide and in the fellow’s homeland.

“Thida’s presence on campus this year has provided a daily reminder, during a time of such darkness in her homeland, of the integrity, resilience, and grace of the Burmese people,” said Robert Coover, Visiting Professor of Literary Arts and Director of the IWP. “This country, too, has been through a dark time, particularly with regard to freedom of expression, but the times, we have reason to hope, they are a-changin’. Keeping all international channels open and thought flowing freely is a primary objective of our freedom to write program at Brown, of which this festival is a celebrative reflection.”