Tutul receives PEN Pinter International Writer of Courage Prize 2016 with Margaret Atwood

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PEN Pinter prize awardee Margaret Atwood announced tonight Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury (Tutul) the winner of the PEN Pinter International Writer of Courage Prize. Image via ICORN.

Image via ICORN.

Bangladeshi publisher, writer and editor Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury (known as Tutul) has this evening, October 13, 2016, been named 2016 International Writer of Courage by Margaret Atwood at the PEN Pinter Prize ceremony at the British Library.

Margaret Atwood was announced as the 2016 PEN Pinter Prize winner in June this year. The prize is shared with an International Writer of Courage: a writer who is active in defence of freedom of expression, often at great risk to their own safety and liberty. Tutul, who survived an extremist attack in Bangladesh a year ago and arrived early this year as ICORN writer-in-residence in Skien, was selected by Margaret Atwood from a shortlist of international cases supported by English PEN. His award was announced at the evening ceremony, and he accepted the prize alongside Margaret Atwood.

Tutul and Margaret Atwood at the PEN Pinter Prize 2016 ceremony. Photo: George Torode

Tutul and Margaret Atwood at the PEN Pinter Prize 2016 ceremony. Photo: George Torode

Tutul, who now lives in exile in Norway, founded Shuddhashar magazine and publishing house in Dhaka to publish progressive work from Bangladeshi writers and bloggers.

Since 2013, Bangladesh has seen an escalation of anti-secular violence and an increase in attacks on freedom of expression. From the beginning of 2015 at least nine intellectuals, academics, writers, bloggers and activists have been brutally murdered in a chain of attacks by Islamic extremists. Many of the victims were associates of Tutul and worked at Shuddhashar, whose publications were seen as blasphemous.

This piece was originally published on ICORN.org.

This piece was originally published on ICORN.org.

One of these was Shuddhashar author and blogger Avijit Roy, who was murdered in the street after leaving a Shuddhashar ceremony during the Ekushey Book Fair in February 2015. The same day, Tutul received a death threat through Facebook and a photograph of himself and the Shuddashar offices were posted online, with the message that Tutul would be killed and that the offices would be set ablaze for publishing works of so-called “atheist writers.” On notifying the police, Tutul was informed that Bangladesh was not a suitable home for a publishing house producing works of this nature.

In October 2015, Tutul himself was attacked in his office by unknown assailants armed with machetes and guns, and was hospitalised in a critical condition. His family was forced to leave Bangladesh and settled in Norway in February 2016, through the ICORN (International Cities of Refuge Network) residency program.

Despite this, Tutul’s publishing house was still represented at this year’s Ekushey Book Fair, although the number of books they published had diminished from 26 to four. Tutul continues to fight for free speech in Bangladesh, speaking at the UN summit Human Rights Defenders in Asia: Protection in Practice in Geneva in March 2016. He was shortlisted for the International Publishers Association’s inaugural Prix Voltaire the same month.

Tutul attended the ceremony at the British Library on October 13 in person to accept the award.

Tutul said: “I’ve been through a really bad time. A lot of frustration, pain and uncertainty. At this time Margaret Atwood’s decision to share her achievement will inspire me, and give me strength to conquer the tough path waiting for me ahead. I know a lot of people working better and bigger than me in silence. This prize will also inspire people I work with.”

Read the whole speech by Tutul.

Margaret Atwood said: “It’s a great honour to be able to share this year’s PEN Pinter Prize with Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury/Tutul. Not only has he shown huge personal courage in the face of adversity, he has also risked everything to give a voice to many other Bangladeshis who are under threat of being silenced, whether through violence or ambivalence. At a time when so many of our colleagues in Bangladesh are risking their lives simply by putting pen to paper, it seems very fitting to share this award with Tutul, and to highlight the plight that he and his colleagues continue to face.”

Margaret Atwood was chosen as the 2016 PEN Pinter Prize recipient in June by this year’s judges Vicky Featherstone, Zia Haider Rahman, Peter Stothard, Antonia Fraser and President of English PEN and Chair of Judges, Maureen Freely. The judges praised Atwood as a “consistent supporter of political causes,” adding “her work championing environmental concern comes well within the scope of human rights … she is a very important figure in terms of the PEN and of Harold Pinter.”

Atwood commented in June: “I am humbled to be the recipient of the 2016 PEN Pinter Prize. I knew Harold Pinter and worked with him – he wrote the scenario for the film version of The Handmaid’s Tale, back in 1089 – and his burning sense of injustice at human rights abuses and the repression of artists was impressive even then. Any winner of such an award is a stand-in for the thousands of people around the world who speak and act against such abuse. I am honored to be this year’s stand-in.”

Continuing Shuddhashar’s work from afar

For the past year, ICORN has received applications from many secular Bangladeshi writers, bloggers and publishers, all in danger of being silenced. ICORN talked to Tutul ahead of the announcement, about the future of his work and publishing company. He says:

Reality is, I had to leave Bangladesh and currently there’s no situation there where Shuddhashar can continue it’s work. I’m thinking and dreaming about how to continue Shuddhashar in an alternative way. One of the ways I wish to explore is ebook publication. Another is to publish Bengali books in hard version from other countries. Actually, it’s important to publish the free thinking books of young writers in order to fight against the extremism and fundamentalism in Bangladesh, which is spreading day by day.

Many world-class literature were written in Bengali and is still being written. According to subject, briefing style, depth, I think the Bangladeshi writers are doing great work. I believe that if the Bangladeshi literature were more widely translated, they would catch the eye of many readers.

I am also planning to have a translation section when I’ll start publication again. I’ll try to publish the translations of the basic thinking on fundamentalism, belief in God etc. and good literature of young writers in Bangladesh.

Publication was never only a business to me, but also a sociocultural movement. Shuddhashar’s slogan is “To inspire, not to impress.” I want to keep doing this work of making people aware from any corner of this world. And now, because of the Internet, reaching an audience is much easier than before.

I know I won’t be able to do this work alone, I’d need a lot of support. My publication is a fight against fundamentalism and terrorism. So, I believe those people who wants to create a progressive world against this should help me for this reason.

Former PEN Pinter Prize awardees

Former winners of the PEN Pinter Prize are: James Fenton (2015), Salman Rushdie (2014), Tom Stoppard (2013), Carol Ann Duffy (2012), David Hare (2011), Hanif Kureishi (2010) and Tony Harrison (2009). Former International Writers of Courage have been: Raif Badawi (2015), Mazen Darwish (2014), Iryan Khalip (2013), Samar Yazbek (2012), Roberto Saviano (2011), Lydia Cacho (2010) and Zarganar (Maung Thura) (2009).

Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury (aka Tutul), was born in Sunamganj, Bangladesh in 1973. In 1990, Tutul published and edited the first issue of Shuddhashar, his magazine, which soon became a platform for a group of young writers. In 2004 Tutul established a publication house also entitled Shuddhashar, with the slogan “To inspire, not to impress.” Shuddhashar became famous for publishing young and freethinking writers and to date has published around 1000 books. In 2013 Shuddhashar was presented with the “Shahid Munir Chowdhury” award by the Bangla Academy. Tutul is also a writer, whose work has been published in numerous newspapers, magazine, and blogs. He has also published a collection of poetry entitled Nil Boshe Shish Kate Thot. On 31 October 2015 Tutul was attacked in his offices by Islamic fundamentalists and left critically injured. Following the attack, he is now living in Norway as one of the International Cities of Refuge Network’s (ICORN) guest writers, where he is continuing to write poetry and hopes to start an online magazine. He is also studying and researching the rise of terrorism in Bangladesh and other developing countries.

Margaret Atwood, born in Ottawa, Canada, in 1939, is the author of more than 40 books of fiction, poetry and critical essays. In addition to the classic The Handmaid’s Tale, her novels include Cat’s Eye, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize, and the MaddAddam trilogy: Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam. She is the winner of many awards, which, in addition to the Booker, include the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature, France’s Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Italy’s Premio Mondello and, in 2014, the Orion Book Award for Fiction. In 2012, she was awarded the title of Companion of Literature by The Royal Society of Literature. She is a Vice President of PEN International. Her latest novel, The Heart Goes Last, was published in September 2015. Her novel Hag-Seed, a novel revisitation of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, for the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, was published on October 11, 2016 and Angel Catbird – with a cat-bird superhero – a graphic novel with co-creator Johnnie Christmas on September 8 2016. Atwood lives in Toronto, Canada.

English PEN is the founding centre of a worldwide writers’ association with centres in more than 100 countries. Its members work to promote literature and to defend free expression. English PEN has been supporting writers at risk since 1960 when the Writers at Risk Committee (formerly known as Writers in Prison Committee) was established. www.englishpen.org

The PEN Pinter Prize is supported by the generosity of the Blavatnik Family Foundation , Ruth Maxted, and The Thompson Family Charitable Trust.

Harold Pinter (10 October 1930-24 December 2008) was a Vice President of English PEN. He visited Turkey on behalf of PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee with Arthur Miller in 1985 where they were accompanied by Orhan Pamuk.

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world’s greatest research libraries. It provides world-class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library’s collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website – www.bl.uk – every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.

The Guardian: Margaret Atwood selects Tutul for Pen writer of courage award

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