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

By Harriet Staff

Some breaking news from New Directions: “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 hearing he was being honored with the award, Ferlinghetti researched the sources of funding for the prize and “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…” Ferlinghetti went on to send the following note 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

The PEN Club looked into creating the proposed fund while offering to exclude the government’s contribution to the prize. Ferlinghetti, however, opted to decline the award in any form, stating: “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.”

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, October 11th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.