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Moris Farhi – the irreplaceable campaigner for writers' freedom

Moris Farhi

The sad, sad news that Moris Farhi is no more.  Somehow we expected such a wonderfully thoughtful and tireless campaigner to keep going. A much-loved and respected novelist, poet, short story writer, script-writer, essayist and campaigner for freedom of expression and against the persecution of writers, Moris Farhi is hugely missed. His passing on 5 March was announced by his publisher.  Rest in Peace, Moris.

When we started the annual Arabic to English literary translation prize, back in 2005, we invited Moris Farhi to be on the first judging panel for the first two years. And he was thrilled to do that. We are forever indebted to him for being there to set the high standards of judging for the prize that remain until today.

We can never forget his comments when the second year's winner was announced in 2007: “No praise can do justice to the importance of the Banipal Trust – and, indeed, to the Saif Ghobash–Banipal Prize. The Trust stands as a tariq, a shining star and messenger, for introducing Arab literature – as great a literature as any in the world – to the Anglophone readership. If it can be said that the Word, whether in prose or poetry, is an unending source of enrichment, then Arab literature ranks as an Aladdin’s cave of infinite proportions. The energy in the works submitted for the Saif Ghobash–Banipal Prize this year was overpowering, and none more so than Khairy Shalaby’s The Lodging House, the winner of the prize. Being one of the judges was an honour and a great joy.”

Moris Farhi was born in Ankara, Turkey, 1935 of Jewish Turkish parents and received a BA in Humanities from American College Istanbul, in 1954. In the same year he came to the UK, and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He graduated in 1956 and settled in London, where after a brief career as an actor, he took up writing.

For the past twenty-five years or so, he has campaigned, from the ranks of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, for writers persecuted and/or imprisoned by repressive regimes. Between 1994-1997, he served as Chair of the Committee; and between 1997-2000, as Chair of International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee. On November 2001, he was elected a Vice President of International PEN. On June 16, 2001, in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, he was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for “services to literature”. He was a Fellow of both The Royal Society of Literature and The Royal Geographical Society.

He has written many television scripts; a film, The Primitives; and a stage play, From The Ashes of Thebes, and is the author of the following novels: The Pleasure of Your Death (Constable, 1972); The Last of Days (Bodley Head & Crown, US, 1983); Journey Through the Wilderness (Macmillan/Picador, 1989); Children of the Rainbow (Saqi, 1999). His latest novel, Young Turk, was published in March 2004 (Saqi) and in the USA in June 2005 (Arcade). It has also been published in translation in Turkey, Greece, Holland, France and Italy and is due to come out in Poland soon. Children of the Rainbow has received two prizes: the “Amico Rom” from the Associazione Them Romano of Italy (2002); and the “Special” prize from the Roma Academy of Culture and Sciences in Germany (2003). The French edition of Young Turk (Jeunes Turcs) received the 2007 Alberto Benveniste Prize for Literature.

His poems have appeared in many British, US and European publications and in the anthology of 20th Century Jewish Poets, Voices Within the Ark (Avon, US, 1979). He has also published short stories in anthologies and magazines in the UK, the US and Poland, the latest being in Lucy Popescu's anthology A Country of Refuge: an Anthology of Writing on Asylum Seekers (2016).

His essay, "The Courage To Forget", appeared in Index on Censorship, Vol.24, No.2, 2005. Another essay, "God Save Us From Religion", is included in the collection, Free Expression is No Offence (Edited by Lisa Appignanesi, published by Penguin Books, 2005) A third essay, "All History is the History of Migration", given at the “Know Your Place?” Conference in November 2005, was also published by Index on Censorship in 2006.

His works have been translated into Arabic, Dutch, French, Galician, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Polish, Romanian and Turkish.

Many of those who knew Morish Farhi well, and worked with him closely, have written tributes on the English PEN website .

Published Date - 07/03/2019