Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 19 October 2019

Richard Ford to Arundhati Roy: authors stand by Kamila Shamsie after prize is withdrawn due to her stand on Palestine

Germany's Nelly Sachs award was revoked over the 'Home Fire' writer's support for the BDS movement

Kamila Shamsie has been stripped of Germany's Nelly Sachs award
Kamila Shamsie has been stripped of Germany's Nelly Sachs award

More than 250 renowned authors have come out in defence of novelist Kamila Shamsie, after the writer was stripped of a literary prize due to her support of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Those supporting Shamsie include South African JM Coetzee; American writers Gloria Steinem and Richard Ford; prominent Indian writers Kiran Desai, Arundhati Roy and Amit Chaudhuri; Somali author Nadifa Mohamed; Canada's Naomi Klein, Yann Martel and Michael Ondaatje; Britain's Olivia Laing and Ken Loach; Libyan writers Hisham Matar and Khaled Mattawa; Nigerian author Ben Okri; Lebanon's Mariam Said; Colombia's Juan Gabriel Vasquez; prominent Palestinian poets Murad Barghouty and Najwan Darwish and Vietnamese-American poet Ocean Vuong.

So, what happened?

The German city of Dortmund has rescinded the Nelly Sachs prize, which it awarded to the Home Fire author earlier this month. The jury said Shamsie’s award was given due to her “outstanding literary work”, which builds "bridges between societies”, but decided to reverse its decision last week.

“The members of the jury were not aware that the author has been participating in the boycott measures against the Israeli government for its Palestinian policies since 2014," the jury said in a statement as they stripped Shamsie of the accolade.

The prize is awarded every two years, and is named in honour of Jewish German poet Nelly Sachs: she was its first recipient in 1961. In 2017, the prize was awarded to Bachtyar Ali of Iraq, in 2010 it went to Canada's Margaret Atwood and in 2007 Syria's Rafik Schami received the prize.

The Dortmund City Council, who hosts the award, released a statement saying that "Shamsie's political positioning to actively participate in the cultural boycott as part of the BDS campaign against the Israeli government is clearly in contradiction to the statutory objectives of the award and the spirit of the Nelly Sachs Prize".

However, 250 prominent authors disagree with that, and have all signed an open letter in support of Shamsie, whose excellent 2017 novel Home Fire reimagines Sophocles's play Antigone unfolding among a British Muslim family.

This summer, American rapper Talib Kweli was disinvited from the Open Source Festival in Dusseldorf after he refused to denounce BDS.

The BDS movement was launched by 170 Palestinian organisations and is inspired by South Africa's anti-apartheid movement. As the organisation explains on its own website, "BDS is an inclusive, anti-racist human rights movement that is opposed on principle to all forms of discrimination, including antisemitism and Islamophobia".

It adds that "BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity".

Here is the full list of authors supporting Shamsie:

Khalid Abdalla, Alaa Abd el-Fattah, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Nadia Abu el-Haj, Diana Abu-Jaber, Susan Abulhawa, Lila Abu-Lughod, Maan Abu Taleb, Ammiel Alcalay, Kazim Ali, Nir Alon, Hanan Al-Shayk, Carlos Manuel Álvarez, Suad Amiry, Tahmima Anam, Sinan Antoon, Lisa Appignanesi, Nicole Aragi, Arnold Aronson, Elsa Auerbach, Zeina Azzam, Kafah Bachari, Sunandini Banerjee, Frank Barat, Mourid Barghouti, Josh Begley, Joel Beinin, Linda Benedikt, Phyllis Bennis, Susan Bernofsky, Omar Berrada, Dwayne Betts, Akeel Bilgrami, Nicholas Blincoe, Leah Borromeo, Brian Boyd, Victoria Brittain, Virginia Brown, Simone Browne, Jehan Bseiso, Victoria Adukwei Bulley, John Burnside, Margaret Busby, Diana Buttu, Carmen Callil, Juan Cárdenas, Zeynep Celik, Hayan Charara, Amit Chaudhuri, Anne Chisholm (Vice President, Royal Society of Literature), Noam Chomsky, Susannah Clapp, Jennifer Clement (President, PEN International), J.M. Coetzee, Teju Cole, Michael Collier, Irene Cooper, Cindy Corrie, Craig Corrie, Molly Crabapple, Selma Dabbagh, William Dalrymple, Najwan Darwish, Katy Derbyshire, Kiran Desai, Natalie Diaz, Laurence Dreyfus, Marlene Dumas, Hilda Dunn, Geoff Dyer, Barbara Ehrenreich, Ben Ehrenreich, Deborah Eisenberg, Inua Ellams, Annie Ernaux, Brian Eno, Nick Estes, Richard Falk, Rose Fenton, Sylvia Finzi, Erica Fischer, Richard Ford, Adam Foulds, Maureen Freely (Chair, English PEN), Duranya Freeman, John Freeman, Ru Freeman, Bella Freud, Esther Freud, Ruth Fruchtman, Tess Gallagher, Cristina Garcia, Tomer Gardi, Suzanne Gardinier, Apoorva Gautam, Ashish George, Ralph Ghoche, Noelle Ghoussaini, Eileen Gillooly, Georgina Godwin, David Gorin, Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Subhi Hadidi, Rawi Hage, Omar Robert Hamilton, Yasmeen Hanoosh, Jeremy Harding, Githa Hariharan, Joseph Harris, Rodrigo Hasbún, Iris Hefets, Jehan Helou, Mischa Hiller, Marianne Hirsch, Jane Hirschmann, Elizabeth Hodges, Rachel Holmes, Amy Horowitz, Jennifer Ruth Hosek, Jean Howard, Aamer Hussein, Kim Jensen, Ruth-Ellen B. Joeres, Lucy Jones, Fady Joudah, Louis Kampf, Remi Kanazi, Brigid Keenan, A.L. Kennedy, Omar el Khairy, Mona Khalidi, Rashid Khalidi, Hannah Khalil, Shamus Khan, Naveen Kishore, Naomi Klein, Alexander Kluge, Nancy Kricorian, Hari Kunzru, Rachel Kushner, Olivia Laing, Nick Laird, Laila Lalami, Léopold Lambert, Patrick Langley, Rickey Laurentiis, Paul Lauter, Paul Laverty, Kiese Laymon, Mason Leaver-Yap, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Ben Lerner, Alan Levine, Richard A. Levy, Ken Loach, Zachary Lockman, Claudia Castro Luna, Ruth Luschnat, Sabrina Mahfouz, Jamal Mahjoub, Lori Marso, Yann Martel, Dave Mason, Ahmed Masoud, Zeinab Masud, Diana Matar, Hisham Matar, Khaled Mattawa, Farid Matuk, Nyla Matuk, Colum McCann, John McCarthy, Tom McCarthy, Fiona McCrae, Sarah McNally, Askold Melnyczuk, Helaine Meisler, Maaza Mengiste, Ritu Menon, Christopher Merrill, Lina Meruane, Brinkley Messick, Claire Messud, China Miéville, Gail Miller, Pankaj Mishra, W.J.T. Mitchell, Nadifa Mohamed, Aja Monet, Jenny Morgan, Benjamin Moser, Michel Moushabek, Jack Murchie, Nancy Murray, Eileen Myles, Karma Nabulsi, Karthika Naïr, Mary Jane Nealon, Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark, Marcy Newman, Donna Nevel, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Lulu Norman, Naomi Shihab Nye, John Oakes, Andrew O’Hagan, Richard Ohmann, Ben Okri, Michael Ondaatje, Susie Orbach, Ursula Owen, David Palumbo-Liu, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, William Parry, Shailja Patel, Ian Patterson, Ed Pavlic, Jeremy Pikser, Shahina Piyarali, Sheldon Pollock, Vijay Prashad, Paul B. Preciado, Alexandra Pringle, Pary El-Qalqili, Rania Qawasmah, Shazea Quraishi, Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Cynthia Rimsky, Bruce Robbins, Sally Rooney, Constancia Dinky Romilly, Jacqueline Rose, Andrew Ross, Alice Rothchild, Pru Rowlandson, Bee Rowlatt, Arundhati Roy, Joe Sacco, Nayantara Sahgal, Mariam C. Said, Rebecca Saletan, Preeta Samarasan, Sapphire, Shuchi Saraswat, George Saunders, James Schamus, Sarah Schulman, Felicity Scott, Stephen Sedley, Karen Seeley, Gamini Seneviratne, Rachel Shabi, Elhum Shakerifar, Anton Shammas, Solmaz Sharif, Adam Shatz, Raja Shehadeh, Farhana Sheikh, Jack Shenker, Adania Shibli, Ahmad Shirazi, Ann Shirazi, Avi Shlaim, Marc Siegel, Rick Simonson, Tom Sleigh, Gillian Slovo, Nirit Sommerfeld, Ahdaf Soueif, Linda Spalding, Gloria Steinem, Amy Kepple Strawser, William Sutcliffe, Billie Swift, Janne Teller, Kate Tempest, Jacques Testard, Madeleine Thien, T.C. Tolbert, Carles Torner (Executive Director, PEN International), Salil Tripathi, (Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee for PEN International), Monique Truong, Jennifer Tseng, Chika Unigwe, Tanya Ury, Karen Van Dyck, Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Lawrence Venuti, Margo Viscusi, Gauri Viswanathan, Ocean Vinh Vuong, Dirk Wanrooij, Roger Waters, Marina Warner, Terry Weber, Eliot Weinberger, Irvine Welsh, Ben White, Mabel Wilson, Jeanette Winterson, Jacqueline Woodson, Jay G. Ying, Mona Younis, Dorothy M. Zellner, Alia Trabucco Zeran

Updated: September 24, 2019 10:33 AM

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