26 have had a longstanding relationship with International PEN, an admirable pressure group which supports suppressed writers all over the world. This year, we launched the 26:50 project to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of PEN’s Writers in Prison committee.

PEN had already linked 50 writers with 50 campaigning years. We took the next step by randomly pairing each of the PEN writers with a writer from 26. The brief? Write 50 words, no more, no less, inspired by the life and work of your writer. My subject was the Iranian writer Shahrnush Parsipur (right), the year 1974. That’s when her first novel The Dog and the Long Winter came out, and when she first went to prison – for protesting about the torture and execution of two journalists (she was working as a TV producer at the time). She spent 59 days in jail and then fled to France, returning to Iran after the Islamic Revolution in 1980. However, it was a case of ‘meet the new boss, just like the old boss’. Once back on home soil, she was immediately arrested and incarcerated for four and a half years without trial or charge. She continued working on her third novel Women Without Men after her release, but its frank depiction of women’s sexuality didn’t go down too well… she was rearrested in 1989, and at that point decided it might be wise to quit the country for the US. She hasn’t been back since, and all her books have been banned in Iran. My fifty words should be out any day now on 26-50.tumblr.com. If you check in now, you can read how other 26 members have responded to their writers. One effort a day is being published until 18 April.

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