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Lawrence Ferlinghetti Declines 50,000 Euro Prize from Hungarian PEN Club

Just received this email from New Directions, and rather than summarize and all that, I’m just going to let it stand alone. (Ironic that this comes out on the day of the Nobel Prize announcement . . . ). So here’s a letter from ND publisher Barbara Epler:

October 11, 2012

Late last week, we learned that famed poet, publisher, bookstore owner, artist, and activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti had been awarded the Janus Pannonius International Poetry Prize from the Hungarian PEN Club, a chapter of the larger PEN organization. Established this year, the prize carries a 50,000 Euro financial award.

After doing some research on the Pannonius Prize, Ferlinghetti discovered that a sizeable portion of the prize money had been provided by the Hungarian government, which has been widely accused of officially and unofficially stifling free speech. In light of this news, Ferlinghetti decided to decline the award, and sent this message to the President of the Hungarian PEN Club:

Dear Geza Szocs,

After careful research into the Pannonius Prize and its sponsors, including the present Hungarian government, I have come to the following conclusions: Since the Prize is partially funded by the present Hungarian government, and since the policies of this right-wing regime tend toward authoritarian rule and the consequent curtailing of freedom of expression and civil liberties, I find it impossible for me to accept the Prize in the United States. Thus I must refuse the Prize in its present terms.

However, assuming the total devotion of the Hungarian PEN Club and yourself to freedom of speech and social justice, I propose that the Prize money be used to set up a fund to be administered by the Hungarian PEN Club, said fund to be devoted solely to the publication of Hungarian authors whose writings support total freedom of speech, civil rights, and social justice. These are the only terms under which I can accept the Pannonius Prize.

In defense of individual freedom and democratic institutions, I am faithfully yours,

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

At that point Mr. Szocs offered to exclude the Hungarian government’s contribution to the prize money and to begin negotiations surrounding the proposed fund, but Ferlinghetti is steadfast in his views, saying:

I hereby refuse the Prize in all its forms. There is no possibility of my accepting the prize in a ceremony in the United States or elsewhere. I am sorry it has come to this, and I am grateful to those in Hungary who may have had the purest motives in offering me the Prize.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti has been a bastion of the New Directions list for over sixty years, and we are proud of his decision and stand by him in his fight for free speech.

Barbara Epler
President, New Directions



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