An Iranian childrens’ book illustrator Ehsan Abdollahi has been denied a visa to visit the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Publishers have branded the decision “disgusting”.
The Bookseller broke the story and I’m quoted in Heloise Wood’s report, commenting for English PEN. Continue reading “Quoted in The Bookseller Condeming a Visa Refusal”
Jodie Whittaker has been cast as the next star of Doctor Who—the first woman to play the rôle. There has been much discussion about the significance of this: Of the slow but noticeable trend towards more female characters leading major science fiction and fantasy stories; and about the backlash from those men who oppose this trend in general, and the casting of a female Doctor in particular. Continue reading “The Thirteenth Doctor”
I’ve just made small donations to Kickstarter projects run by two UK-based, independent international publishers.
First: Make Influx Press Bigger and Better.
Influx are responsible for the sui generis creative non-fiction book Imaginary Cities by Darran Anderson, a sweeping take on how architecture affects our minds and how our minds affect architecture. The book is great and (with hindsight) it would have made money for whoever published it. But that was by no means apparrent before publication and it was the Influx team who took the risk. I’m supporting their funding drive so that they can put more literature like that into the world… and of course to get one of their forthcoming publications as a ‘reward’ for my support. Continue reading “I Supported These Two Publishers On Kickstarter And You Should Too”
Via @Documentally’s excellent weekly newsletter, here’s a short Observer article by Eva Wiseman on the phenomenon of ‘killfies’. This is where a person’s attempt to take a selfie of themselves gets them killed.
Which led me to think, maybe we’ve been getting our fears wrong all along? What if the way technology destroys humanity is not with an uprising of robots, of toasters turning against their masters, of self-driving cars choosing a road trip less travelled, but with something as simple as a reflection? There is something so unashamedly ancient in these deaths that it almost seems gauche to point it out. The sirens singing on the rock, beckoning sailors towards their comprehensive display of filters. The boys drowning in their own image. The recording of a risk, the risk itself. …
And once you’ve learned about killfies, it’s very hard to unsee them. Every Instagram post suddenly reads a little like a suicide note.
Or, as a candidate for ‘the photo of you the media will use when they report on your untimely death’, the darker side to selfies that I wrote about a few years ago. In bygone eras, these images were usually school photos or wedding day pictures. Now they tend to be self-portaits. Continue reading “On Killfies and Campaign Photos”
In a report about Ayatollah Khameni’s regressive and anti-Semitic views on feminism, this nugget:
Earlier this month, Khamenei issued a speech warning that “cultural attacks by the enemy are more dangerous than military attacks”, hitting out at human rights groups and think tanks.
The speech itself concerns the Iran-Iraq war. Khameni believes that intensive discussion and celebration of the ‘Sacred Defence Era’ will culturally fortify Iranians against the pernicious influence of Iran’s enemies. His definition of ‘culture’ is of course extremely narrow. But there is nevertheless something refreshing about the idea that cultural influence is more important and effective than military force! Continue reading “Fighting the Fundamentalists: More Books Please”
It is the Oscar’s this weekend and La La Land is favoured to win Best Picture.
In this op-ed piece for the Independent, Amrou Al-Kadhi laments the way Arab characters exist on the periphery of most Western cinema.
Stories onscreen have the rare ability to arouse empathy for diverse characters in audiences across the world, so leaving out Arab and Muslim voices in such a context of global Islamophobia is particularly damaging. With masterful directors, sublime works like Moonlight happen; now the story of gay black masculinity in the Miami ghetto has become that much more relatable and mainstream. It is my genuine belief that if the TV and film industry had been more diligent in representing Arab characters – with all our humane, complex, intersectional three-dimensionality – xenophobia would not be as pandemic as it is today.
Reading this challenge to the film industry, I naturally began to think of how the literary community measures up on the same issue. Although I don’t exactly work in the publishing industry, English PEN works closely with publishers and writers, and the debate over who gets published and what gets published is always close and loud. Continue reading “How Do We Make Diversity Scale?”
Societal progress moves at a glacial pace. Sexism didn’t go away when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister and it’s still with us even though Teresa May now occupies Number 10 Downing Street.
Still, it’s interesting (to me, at least) to watch our societal attitudes change, even at the quantum level. In fact, I think it is particularly worthwhile to note the most granular changes in our discourse: in this case, how we talk about women and men.
Many people have shared this article by Nicole Morely in the Metro: ‘Theresa May’s husband steals the show in sexy navy suit as he starts new life as First Man‘.
Continue reading “Fashionista Philip: The Sartorial Choices of Mr May”
“My nephew Luke has no memory of a white male president” says Melissa Ryan. “Hillary Clinton just made history but for millions of children she won’t be the first woman president. She’ll just be the president.”
This is exactly right, I responded.
I was born right before Margaret Thatcher became the British Prime Minister and she remained so until I was nearly 11 years old. In my head, the word ‘Prime Minister’ was inherently gendered female and whenever, in fiction or historical context, the Prime Minister was referred to with the male pronouns he/him, it felt odd. Continue reading “How Margaret Thatcher Hacked My Brain And Made Me Slightly Less Sexist”
In the local church hall, the Girl Guides have put up a display of strange symbols. A short tour of Google reveals them to be Adinkra Symbols from West Africa – specifically Ghana.
I’ve pasted some images below, but there are more on www.adinkra.org. My favourite is WO NSA DA MU A “If your hands are in the dish”, a symbol of participatory government, democracy and pluralism. Continue reading “Adinkra Symbols”
During my time working for English PEN I’ve often used the phrase ‘literary campaigning’ to describe our particular style of activism. Its a term that probably seems self evident: we use literature to draw attention to the situation of writers at risk. For example, we might read the writing of an imprisoned poet outside an embassy, or stage a world-wide reading at multiple locations around the world.
Its an approach that has value for several reasons. Not only is it non-violent, but it is also not particularly hostile or antagonistic to those who have imprisoned the writer or who are responsible for their persecution. So it has a diplomatic quality.
It also a fantastic act of solidarity for the embattled writer. Where they have been entirely censored through imprisonment (or even death) it is a way to give them a voice and restore to them some sort of expression. Continue reading “Literary Campaigning at its Best”