Thanks to the ever brilliant Ellen Wiles, Elsewhere Journal has been publishing the commissioned pieces made by Writers for the last English PEN celebration event that I curate. It’d grand they have found a home in print, as we’ve not done that before despite the event going for many years now.
You can read Ellen’s remarkable introduction here https://www.elsewhere-journal.com/blog/2019/7/22/pen-amp-paper-aeroplanes-an-introduction To take on writing a piece for another writer whose situation is so much harder than one’s own, and whose freedom is so much more limited, feels like a weight of responsibility as well as a privilege. Steve has described his feelings, when he co-curated the inaugural festival, on being presented with a pack of summaries of the lives of thirty English PEN-supported writers at risk: ‘When I received the files on the writers at risk… I was just about to board a long flight and so had the chance to read them in one go, over about nine hours, in the strange environs of a plane. It’s hard to describe the feeling afterwards, certainly the sense of responsibility, that I had sought out this project, enthusiastic from the off, but perhaps not truly prepared for the reality of the writers we would be writing about. It’s mawkish to speak of admiration, but coming face to face with such will, such commitment to principle… left me feeling as ashamed as I was inspired. Perhaps one can never really divorce oneself from the selfish question of whether I would continue to speak up in such circumstances, facing prison, torture, perhaps death. To risk my life and the lives of those I love.’
And my piece for Oleg Sentsov https://www.elsewhere-journal.com/blog/2019/8/2/pen-amp-paper-aeroplanes-steven-j-fowler-for-oleg-sentsov Second performance, June 2019 - For my second performance I once again nailed fruit and then ate it nailed, but this time with a black bag on my head while improvising some words about what Oleg Sentsov’s gesture of resistance, and life in general means to me, building on the six months between works I had to think about him. The principle that we might not be brave when called, and that even if, at first flush we may feel courage, it normally dissipates as reality sets in. This is an idea I have thought about my whole life. That it is easy to be what you hope to be when the weather is fair, but character is what happens when you realise days in you will be forgotten and your suffering, no matter how representative, symbolic or important, if yours alone. The man, Oleg Sentsov, is a giant. He has a giant soul. He embarrasses me into gratitude for my life, and that there seems no question on the horizon for my own principles like the one he has quite unbelievably answered.