Urgent Witness: A Freedom-to-Write Conference

11 a.m. Freedom-to-Write Panel:  Bringing the News from Around the Globe

Featuring Gazmend Kapllani, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, George Seremba, Larry Siems

7 p.m.  Literary Presentations by Gazmend Kapllani and George Seremba

Gazmend Kapllani is an Albanian-born novelist, journalist and scholar - 2012 Radcliffe Harvard Fellow, 2013 Brown University Visiting Scholar and 2013 IIE-SFR Fellow. His novel A Short Border Handbook (2009), a best-seller in Greece, was translated into Danish, English, French, and Polish, and was short-listed for the John D. Criticos Prize. My Name is Europe ( 2010 in Greek/ 2013 in French) and The Last Page (2012) explore how totalitarianism, immigration, borders, and Balkan history have shaped private lives and narratives. His books have become successful theatrical plays in Greece and Denmark. For the past 21 years, he has lived in Athens and written his novels in Greek, which is not his mother tongue. He received his PhD in political science and history from Panteion University in Athens, with a dissertation on the image of Albanians in the Greek press and of Greeks in the Albanian press. Through his work as an author and a columnist for leading Greek newspapers, Kapllani has been an advocate for human rights, fairness, and diversity, receiving Greek and international recognition. Currently, he teaches History and Creative Writing at Emerson College.

Joanne Leedom-Ackerman is a novelist, short story writer, and journalist whose works of fiction include The Dark Path to the River and No Marble Angels.. Joanne is Vice President of PEN International and former International Secretary of PEN International and former Chair of its Writers in Prison Committee. She serves on boards of PEN American Center, PEN Faulkner Foundation and Poets and Writers. She also serves on the boards of the International Crisis Group, Johns Hopkins University and Refugees International and is an emeritus board member of Human Rights Watch and Brown University . A former reporter for The Christian Science Monitor,  Joanne has taught writing at New York University, City University of New York, Occidental College and in the Writers’ Program at the University of California at Los Angeles extension.  She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Joanne lives in Washington, DC.


Playwright George Seremba was forced to flee Uganda in 1980 following a botched assassination attempt at the hands of Milton Obote’s military intelligence (‘G’ Branch).   After leaving Uganda, he moved first to Kenya, then to Canada, and later to Dublin. Since leaving Uganda, he has had an extensive career as a playwright and performer. He is the author of three full-length plays, The Grave Will Decide, Come Good Rain, and Napoleon of the Nile, as well as of poems and radio plays. An accomplished actor, he has performed in feature films, on television, and on the stage. While IWP Visiting Playright at Brown in August - September, 2010,  he staged a performance of Come Good Rain, a one-man show about the night when, as a student leader in Uganda, he was taken out and shot, and left for dead.

 A writer and human rights activist, Larry Siems is the author, most recently, of The Torture Report: What the Documents Say About America’s Post-9/11 Torture Program, which drew on 140,000 pages of formerly secret government documents and other publicly available materials to construct a comprehensive narrative of the Bush administration’s torture program.  From 2001 until 2013, Siems served as Director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center, where he led PEN’s ongoing efforts to defend writers facing persecution for their work around the work and for PEN’s Campaign for Core Freedoms, a comprehensive initiative to turn back new threats to freedom of expression in the United States. He was also instrumental in the creation of the “Reckoning With Torture” film project, a joint initiative of PEN, the ACLU, and director Doug Liman that promotes accountability by encouraging public readings from declassified documents that detail the abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody since September 11, 2001.

Participating Authors

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Gazmend Kapllani