September 26, 2019
Vaclav Havel Library Foundation
Award Acceptance Speech
Prefaced by Sevinç Türkkan
It is such honor for me to stand before you today as Aslı Erdoğan’s translator and accept this meaningful award on her behalf. I am also deeply troubled to see that the scars of discrimination, exile, and incarceration deteriorated this powerful writer’s health, and prevented her from being with us today to receive this honor in person. I came to know Aslı Erdoğan through her power pen and this is what inspired me to take on the challenging task of translating The Stone Building into English. I am proud that through this translation I was able to bring more readers to her writings and pave the road to honors such as this one. Today I stand before you as the English translator of a Turkish writer but in fact, I was born in Bulgaria and left the Communist oppression in 1989 when I was 11. When you celebrate the end of totalitarian regimes in the name of Vaclav Havel, I celebrate with you! Thank you.
Please allow me to read Aslı Erdoğan’s letter to all of us:
“Dear members of Vaclav Havel Library Foundation and the jury, dear colleagues and friends, dear guests, first I apologize for my unforeseen absence. I was urgently hospitalized two weeks ago and my health has not yet recovered enough for a trip to New York. Alas, every opportunity I have had to travel to New York, has been cancelled by last minute misfortunes. I sincerely thank Pavla Niklova and Sevinc Turkkan for compensating for my absence. I would like to thank the members of the jury for considering my work for such a precious prize. I also owe thanks to my U.S. publisher, The City Lights Books, my editor Elaine Katzenberger and my translator, Sevinc Turkkan for the birth of “The Stone Building“ in English language.
I feel truly honored and deeply grateful to receive an award in the name of Vaclav Havel. I have been one of his readers since an early age, but I came to learn and appreciate his life story, his resistance and political struggle later. His name is among those, who awaken our hopes in the visionary and transformative powers of literature, and keep alive our belief in the “Word” as resistance and resurrection. Hereby, I would like to express once more my gratitude to the literary world, especially PEN, writers and readers from all around the world for their support and solidarity throughout my ordeal.
Unfortunately, writers today are still facing the brutality of various oppressive regimes, and are also trying to speak through several invisible barriers of indifference and silence. The age we live in empties out all our words and concepts, those essential words and concepts that have been created from centuries of blood and dreams and despair… The writer’s presence is more and more determined by the rules of the market. Literature is slowly stripped of all its possible missions. But it is the writers’ reason for existence, reason to give their meanings back to words and search for words on behalf of MEANING.
“The human” and “the being” – The English language puts these two concepts so effortlessly together to form the most dilemmatic of all: The human being…The homo sapiens is a story teller, as we all know, his and her never ending quest is actually to exist in this still-to-be-told story.
Literature, as a mirror, has long been shattered, but some of us still keep on groping among the broken glass, wandering through the dreams of a mirror. Perhaps that has long turned into sand, for a grain of truth only a bleeding hand can grasp. But the word is yet “unspoken,” and is doomed to remain forever so, and in precisely there lies its unique miracle.
I have dedicated a lifetime of writing to voice the wound, the void, and the victim. I believe, without the silenced screams of all victims, our Word, hence our World will be even more devoid of meaning.
I dedicate this award to all writers, oppressed, punished, erased, unheard in one form or another, but still keep the WORD alive.