One correctly imagines the Imprisoned Writer to be published and well-known; a journalist, poet or novelist whose words unsettle regimes, dictatorships, military juntas and otherwise deviant governments.
But there is another type of Imprisoned Writer to consider. This is the one who has not yet emerged, who is held, not in a penal colony or high-security prison, but within the vaults of grinding poverty and by the chains of educational and artistic deprivation.
‘The unborn future author’ is imprisoned within the child who will never have books to read, and so will never learn to render imaginings and observations into literary, journalistic or poetic text.
Today, the fifteenth of November, is the Day of the Imprisoned Writer. We reflect on South Africa’s looming, notorious Protection of State Information Bill, on censorship, on text book-dumping and pulping; but particularly on the silencing of unrealized authors doomed from the start.
We are all the poorer for their muting.
For Zanethemba K
I see you still
under the erythrina
on the day Mandela was released
from his twenty-seven years.
Everything will be different now
I told you
What you dream to be
you can become.
I will be a writer, when I am grown.
There were cicadas ringing
and it was like bells
like shrill whistles filling the air
with the ochre and gold
of poems yet to be born.
Photo: Nicholas Wiid
For Zanethemba K by Patricia Schonstein from The Collected Poems 1974-2012 (Unpublished manuscript)
The Day of the Imprisoned Writer, initiated in 1981 by PEN International, is observed annually on November 15 to draw attention to persecuted writers.