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As the audience gathered in the Martin E. Segal Theater at CUNY Grad Center for the third and final session in a day of exploration of Revolutionary Plays Since 2000, you could spot several revolutionaries dressed in red, or with painted faces, and at least one T-shirt with Obama depicted in the style of Che Guevara. Panel moderator Mike Daisey noted the cognitive dissonance of a gathering to discuss revolutionary theater happening on May Day, when various constellations of Occupy Wall Street groups had taken over parts of the city in some actual political theater.

But the assembled writers, translators, and theater-makers were game to create such a discussion, and they came at it from radically different perspectives. Michael Friedman and Kelly McCreary, from the investigative theater group known as The Civilians, performed songs from their cabaret-style show Let Me Ascertain You: Occupy Wall Street, in which all the ums and ahs of interviews with Occupies are showcased to dramatic effect.

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On Monday, October 22, PEN American Center’s Larry Siems will moderate a conversation between Yu Jie and Anna Funder before a screening of Silence or Exile. The event will take place from 7pm to 9pm at The Scandinavia House,38 Park Avenue.

Silence or Exile tells the stories of the lives and work of five exiled writers who, in their pursuit of freedom of expression, have been forced to escape their home countries. The writers portrayed are:  Philo Ikonya (Kenya/Oslo), Mana Neyestani (Iran/Paris), Horacio Castellanos-Moya (El Salvador/Iowa City), Svetlana Alexievitch (Belarus/Berlin), and Ma Jian (China/London).

Yu Jie is the recipient of the 2012 Civil Courage Prize. He is known as one of China’s most prominent essayists and critics. Following severe harassment and persecution he fled to the US with his family in January 2012. From his new point of exile, he sees “his lifelong goal as achieving democracy and freedom in China.”

Anna Funder explores, in her acclaimed novel All that I Am, the destinies of persecuted writers and intellectuals in the Weimar Era and during World War II. From that perspective, she will draw the lines up to our age, asking how solidarity and hospitality can be mobilized for persecuted writers of today.

The event is organized by ICORN, the International Cities of Refuge Network and its Shahrazad stories for life program, in close cooperation with PEN American Center and the Scandinavia House.

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The following post was written by PEN World Voices correspondent Dan Sheehan.


On July 31, 2009, not long after the mass civil unrest which followed the disputed presidential elections in neighboring Iran, American journalist and photographer Shane Bauer, alongside his girlfriend Sarah and their close friend Josh, set off on a hike to find a popular tourist destination near the Iran-Iraq border in Kurdistan, the Ahmed Awa waterfall. Suddenly, a little further down the path, they found themselves being waved over by two soldiers gesturing in the distance. In walking that short stretch to the two uniformed men, Shane, Sarah, and Josh unwittingly crossed the border into Iran and were arrested. Sarah would spend the next 14 months in prison. Shane and Josh would not be released for two years. 

Shane Bauer does not have the aura of a man who has spent a decent-sized chunk of his adult life locked in a bare cell. Nor does he seem like someone who you would expect to see corresponding, visiting, and empathizing with the hardened criminals who populate the 11’ x 7’ solitary confinement cells of California’s notorious supermax prison, Pelican Bay. Yet these are the arenas in which he has been remolded.

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