library of exile (detail)

Event information

26 Nov 2020

17.30–18.45

Online event

Please note this is an online event and will require you to use the event streaming system Crowdcast.

These events are free, however donations are greatly appreciated.

'Literature knows no frontiers and should remain a common currency between nations despite political upheavals', according to the PEN Charter

This charter acts as the guiding principles for PEN International's Centres, which defend the rights of writers and readers around the world. 

This panel discussion celebrates the role of translation in breaking down barriers. Chaired by Associate Editor (Culture) for the Guardian and English PEN Trustee, Claire Armitstead, it features Syrian translator and author of The Frightened Ones, Dima Wannous; Chinese-born British poet and author of Red Dust, Ma Jian; and his translator and interpreter, Flora Drew.

This is one of four thought-provoking events in a series exploring the themes inspired by the library of exile, presented in collaboration with its creator Edmund de Waal and English PEN.

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About the speakers

Dima Wannous is a Syrian writer, born in 1982. She studied French Literature at Damascus University and the Sorbonne. Her short story collection Details was published in 2007 and was translated into German. Her first novel, Chair, was published in 2008. She has written for newspapers such as Al-Safir, Al-Hayat, the Washington Post and the online outlet Jadaliyya. In 2009, she was selected among the 39 most talented Arab writers under the age of 40 by the Beirut39 project.

Ma Jian

Ma Jian was born in Qingdao, China. He is the author of seven novels, a travel memoir, three story collections and two essay collections. His work has been translated into 26 languages. Since the publication of his first book in 1987, all his work has been banned in China. He left Beijing for Hong Kong in 1987 as a dissident, but he continued to travel to China, and supported the pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square in 1989. He now lives in exile in London. He's free to travel to China, but his books are banned or censored, and he's forbidden from publishing or making public statements.

Claire Armitstead

Claire Armitstead was born in south London and spent her early years in northern Nigeria. She worked as a trainee reporter in South Wales, covering the Welsh valleys during the miners' strike, before joining the Hampstead & Highgate Express as a theatre critic and sub-editor. She then moved to the Financial Times, and subsequently to the Guardian, where she has worked as Arts Editor, Literary Editor, Head of Books and most recently, Associate Editor (Culture). She presents the weekly Guardian Books podcast and is a regular speaker at festivals around the world. She has been a trustee of English PEN since 2013.

Flora Drew

Flora Drew is the translator of Beijing Coma and studied Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. She has worked in television and film and has translated Ma Jian's Red Dust, The Noodle Maker and Stick Out Your Tongue.