Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Empty Chair - Celia Rees

Every day, authors appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival give their time to stand in solidarity with persecuted writers by reading aloud from their work. The readings are organised by Scottish PEN, in conjunction with Amnesty International. Pride of place at these events is given to an empty chair. The chair represents those writers who cannot be there, who have to have their words read by others because they live in repressive regimes that seek to silence them by censoring their work; subjecting them to imprisonment, torture, or worse, for daring to express their views and for demanding that their voices be heard.


All the writers taking part in this event must feel, as I did, honoured and humbled to be reading from the work of fellow writers who have suffered, and are suffering, for the right to do something which we take so very much for granted. We are free to write what we like, read what we like, say what we like.


I sat in the tent, listening to my fellow writers reading the words of our brother and sister authors, famous and anonymous, imprisoned or in hiding, in China, in Cuba, in Burma and in Bagdad. All around us events were going on, audiences queuing up, readings being given, while back in the yurt, a fair few egos were on display. I thought about how lightly we hold our freedom to take part in this sharing of words and writing and I found myself looking at that empty chair and wondering: would I be prepared to take the risk? Would any of us? As I did so, words came into my head. Words from the hymn, As I Survey The Wondrous Cross:


my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

If you are attending trhe Book Festival, go along to show your support and solidarity. These events are free and happen at 5:30 every day.

8 comments:

Jenny Alexander said...

Thoughtful and thought-provoking - thank you, Celia.

Katherine Langrish said...

Sobering stuff, but great that the festival includes this moving reminder of writers who struggle to be heard.

adele said...

A very good and important post, Celia. Indeed, we do take SO MUCH for granted in this country.

Miriam Halahmy said...

So glad you posted this Celia, its a massively important initiative and always reminds me of how lucky I have always been to be free to say and write what I wish. Many thanks.

Celia Rees said...

Thanks all for responding and, yes, sometimes we do need to be remined about how lucky we are.

Sue Purkiss said...

Thanks, Celia.

Linda Strachan said...

Thanks for this post, Celia
I too have read at these events which take place each day at the book festival, every year, and each time I have also felt humbled by the courage of the writers whose work I read out.

Lynne Garner said...

An interesting read - as a person who likes to speak her mind I'm not sure what I'd do if I couldn't. Great to see positive action being taken and reaching such a large audience.