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.