The first thing I did [after being stripped of citizenship] was to tweet: “When I woke up this morning I was Bahraini, and when I wake up tomorrow I will be Bahraini.” I am sticking with my identity. I don’t want to leave it … It is not for the government to give it or take it away, it is not for them to take me from my roots, I will not accept to be unrecognized by the world.
Ali Abdulemam, Bahraini writer and social media activist stripped of citizenship in February 2015, awarded a Hellman-Hammett grant in 2011
I always admired Émile Zola, but never liked his novels. Social realists may have a just cause, but politics threatens art…Yes, there is rebellion in my novels, but it’s rebellion against mortality. As long as man goes from one darkness to another, he will create myths for himself. The only difference between me and others is that I write mine down.
Yaşar Kemal, Kurdish-Turkish novelist who passed away in February 2015, awarded a Hellman-Hammett grant in 1995
Despite all of this, I announce my intention to continue writing in stronger and clearer terms, and I declare that I will continue my activity in public affairs. There is no power in this world that will deter me from my writing, and declaration of my views, and from engaging in public affairs.
Mustafa Ismail, Kurdish Syrian writer and poet who suffered years of police harassment, awarded a Hellman-Hammett grant in 2010
The grant came at a moment when my three brothers and I were all imprisoned for our pro-democracy activities, and there was no one to provide financial support to our parents or our wives. With the money I received, my wife was able to finish building our house in Nakuru, and start to build a granary to support herself. But it wasn’t so much the cash that went with it, although that was very useful for my family. It was the support that was signified by it. [Former President Daniel arap] Moi would not have hesitated to execute us if he had thought he could get away with it.
—Koigi wa Wamwere, Kenyan writer and dissident imprisoned under President Moi, awarded a Hellman-Hammett grant in 1995
How can I say something good about you?
Where shall I start?
You are not brave enough.
You are not kind enough.
You are not wise enough.
You are a dust storm
and a summer drought.
You are an empty wind
and a bad harvest.
You are made of a bad clay.
Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame (“Hadrawi”), Somali poet who wrote this poem in response to dictator Mohamed Siad Barre’s request for loyalty, awarded a Hellman-Hammett grant in 1992
Embattled writers are not necessarily heroes. Awards are a sign, a warm gesture to those with a very few allies in their society…Today, threats to free expression remain in our public sphere [in Indonesia], but they are sporadic and without institutional backing.
Goenawan Mohamad, founder of Tempo newsmagazine in Jakarta, awarded a Hellman-Hammett grant in 1995
The War Works Hard
How magnificent the war is!
Early in the morning
it wakes up the sirens
and dispatches ambulances
to various places
swings corpses through the air
rolls stretchers to the wounded
from the eyes of mothers
digs into the earth
dislodging many things
from under the ruins…
Some are lifeless and glistening
others are pale and still throbbing…
It produces the most questions
in the minds of children
entertains the gods
by shooting fireworks and missiles
into the sky
sows mines in the fields
and reaps punctures and blisters
urges families to emigrate
stands beside the clergymen
as they curse the devil
(poor devil, he remains
with one hand in the searing fire)…
The war continues working, day and night.
It inspires tyrants
to deliver long speeches
awards medals to generals
and themes to poets
it contributes to the industry
of artificial limbs
provides food for flies
adds pages to the history books
between killer and killed
teaches lovers to write letters
accustoms young women to waiting
fills the newspapers
with articles and pictures
builds new houses
for the orphans
invigorates the coffin makers
gives grave diggers
a pat on the back
and paints a smile on the leader’s face.
It works with unparalleled diligence!
Yet no one gives it
a word of praise.
Dunya Mikhail, female Iraqi poet who was warned to “stop anti-government writings” and sought asylum in the US, awarded a Hellman-Hammett grant in 2001 (Translated by Elizabeth Winslow)