Freedom only to accept Freedom to Write award

Rakhim Esenov, allowed a last-minute reprieve from house arrest in Turkmenistan, is the first writer in 20 years to accept PEN’s Freedom to Write award in person.

[H]e was arrested two years ago when he returned to Turkmenistan from a trip to Moscow with 800 copies of his banned trilogy, “Ventsenosny Skitalets” (“The Crowned Wanderer”), about a 16th-century Turkmen poet and general, Bayram Khan, who is said to have saved the Mogul empire from breaking apart.

Mr. Esenov was accused of smuggling the books and with inciting national and religious hatred. Although he was released from prison a few weeks after his arrest, he was forbidden to leave Turkmenistan, even to seek medical treatment in Moscow. Many of his books were burned.

Before a crowd of 650 people on Tuesday night, Mr. Esenov accepted the honor from Barbara Goldsmith, an author and historian who co-sponsors the Freedom to Write award with PEN. “In my heart, I am racing,” he said, speaking through an interpreter. “In the Gospels it says ‘hallowed be thy name’ and I say hallowed be your name, dear friends. Thank you.”

PEN’s World Voices Festival continues through Sunday, April 30.


You might want to subscribe to my free Substack newsletter, Ancestor Trouble, if the name makes intuitive sense to you.