‘To shine a light on freedom of expression & writers at risk’

  • Three post-show Q&As on the broader theme of freedom of expression and PEN’s work in support of writers at risk
  • With award winning writers, including Burhan Sonmez, Mona Arshi, Ben Okri and Lemn Sissay
  • With Julian Assange's wife and lawyer Stella Assange
  • Moderated by journalist Hattie Crisell

PEN International, which has been promoting literature and defending freedom of expression worldwide since 1921, is delighted to announce three post-show Q&As taking place in London this summer, as part of its unique partnership with the West End production of multi award-winning Martin McDonagh’s electrifying play The Pillowman which is running at the Duke of York’s theatre until 2 September 2023.  Lily Allen plays Katurian, a writer in a police state who is interrogated about the content of her short stories and their similarities to several murders occurring in the town.  Steve Pemberton plays Tupolski with Paul Kaye as Ariel and Matthew Tennyson as Michal.   

Featuring award winning writers, PEN International President Burhan Sonmez, as well as PEN’s friends and supporters Mona Arshi, Stella Assange, Ben Okri and Lemn Sissay, the three live conversations will examine the role of the writer in contemporary times - resonating and compounding the themes of the play - the importance of hope and solidarity with writers at risk, as well as PEN International’s guiding principles and work on freedom of expression and imagination, and on how writers have often been looked upon to critically engage in what makes us human.

Moderated by journalist and podcaster, Hattie Crisell, the post-show Q&As will take place after the play on 4 July, 8 July, and 17 August, 22.10 – 22.30, open to all ticket holders.

Tuesday 4 July
Live conversation with celebrated writers Mona Arshi and Ben Okri.
Mona Arshi and Ben Okri
Tuesday 18 July
Live conversation with writer Burhan Sonmez and lawyer Stella Assange.
Burhan Sonmez and Stella Assange
Thursday 17 August
Writer Lemn Sissay MBE in conversation with Hattie Crisell.
About the participants

Mona Arshi trained as a human rights lawyer and now is a poet, novelist and essayist. Her debut poetry collection Small Hands won the Forward Prize for best first collection in 2015. Her second collection Dear Big Gods was published in 2019. Arshi is currently a fellow commoner in creative arts at Trinity College, Cambridge. Her debut novel Somebody Loves You was published by And Other Stories in 2021.

Stella Assange (Julian Assange's wife, lawyer) joined Julian Assange’s international legal team in London in 2011, before he received political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Since 2020 she has been campaigning to free him from UK prison where he is under indefinite, administrative detention since 2019, and for the case against him to be dropped in the United States, where he faces 175 years for his WikiLeaks publications revealing war crimes and torture. Stella and Julian married in March 2022 in Belmarsh high-security prison. They have two children together. 

Hattie Crisell is a freelance journalist based in London, and writes for The Times, Grazia, Vogue, Elle and others. She produces and hosts the podcast In Writing with Hattie Crisell, a series of interviews about the writing process, and she is currently working on a related book, to be published by Granta Books in 2024.

Ben Okri is a poet, novelist, essayist, short story writer, anthologist, aphorist, and playwright. He has also written film scripts. His works have won numerous national and international prizes, including the Booker Prize for Fiction. He has also received many honorary doctorates for his contribution to Literature. Recently, his Grenfell poem, on Channel Four YouTube, has received more than 6million visits on Facebook.

Lemn Sissay is a poet, playwright, memoirist performer, broadcaster, and BAFTA nominated International prize winning writer. He was awarded an MBE for services to literature by The Queen of England, The Pen Pinter Prize and a Points of Light Award from The Prime Minister, and in 2021, he  was named OBE for services to Literature and Charity.  

Burhan Sonmez is an award-winning Kurdish novelist and lawyer from Turkey, and the author of five novels, translated into forty-two languages. He was elected President of PEN International on the 24th of September 2021. He has written for various papers including The Guardian, Der Spiegel, La Repubblica. He is a Senior Member of Hughes Hall College and Trinity College, University of Cambridge. 

More about Pen International