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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. Last year, Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk faced potential jail time after being accused of “insulting Turkishness” because of his statement to a Swiss newspaper that “30,000 Kurds and one million Armenians were killed in these lands, and nobody but me dares talk about it.” The charges against him were dropped in January after drawing international condemnation.

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. In addition, the IWP sponsors festivals, like Strange Times, My Dear, that celebrate the cultural heritage of each Fellow and seek to increase awareness of the situation of international writers worldwide and in the IWP Fellow’s homeland.

"We are at a watershed moment in the history of human discourse and its slow painful establishment over the centuries of the principles of freedom of expression." notes Robert Coover, TB Stowell Adjunct Professor of Literary Arts and the driving force behind the IWP at Brown. "Religious and nationalistic extremism, together with perceived threats, real or imagined, are rapidly eroding those liberties around the world. Even our own precious Constitutional First Amendment is today under relentless attack from within. At such a moment, programs like Brown University's International Writers Project with its goals of providing safe haven for repressed and endangered creative writers and of fostering free and open international dialogue are of the greatest importance."