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On the Books: Salman Rushdie shares PEN prize with Syrian activist

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– Author Salman Rushdie is sharing his PEN Pinter prize with Syrian journalist, lawyer, and human rights activist Mazen Darwish. Darwish has been imprisoned in Syria since February 2012, where he is currently awaiting trial on charges of publicizing terrorist acts, according to English PEN. The founder of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted. “Darwish courageously fought for civilised values—free expression, human rights—in one of the most dangerous places in the world,” said Rushdie, speaking at last night’s ceremony at the British Library in London. “His continued detention is arbitrary and unjust. He should be freed immediately, and we must hope this award may help, by shining a light on his plight.”

English PEN, a British free speech organization, established the joint prize five years ago in the name of Nobel Prize-winning British playwright Harold Pinter, who died of cancer in 2008. Half of the prize is awarded to a British author whose work helps defend freedom of speech and justice. Rushdie was selected for his “many years of speaking out for freedom of expression,” according to judges chair Maureen Freely. “When he sees writers unjustly vilified, prosecuted or forced into exile, he takes a personal interest.” The other half of the prize goes to an international writer who has been persecuted for doing similar work. [The Guardian]

– On Friday, PEN published Darwish’s acceptance speech, which was smuggled out of his prison in Damascus and translated from Arabic to English. In his message, he addresses the history of the political and literary controversy that makes Darwish and Rushdie a somewhat unlikely pair: Rushdie’s 1989 novel The Satanic Verses led to calls for his death (fatwa) throughout the Muslim world for its portrayal of Islam.

“Allow me to take advantage of controversial writer Salman Rushdie’s presence among you this evening to tell him this: although we may have deeply disagreed with your views, we committed an unforgivable sin in the Arab world when we responded with indifference to the fatwas and calls for your death… What a great shame that it has taken us all of this bloodshed to arrive at the belief that we are the ones who will pay the price for preventing those with whom we disagree from expressing their views.”

– Music legend John Lennon’s very own comic book went on sale this week, a 32-page biographical profile of The Beatles singer-songwriter written by Marc Shapiro and illustrated by Luciano Kars. “I approached writing Tribute: John Lennon as an exploration of a life full of potential and promise that was, sadly, cut short,” Shapiro said in a Bluewater Productions press release. The book focuses on Lennon’s life and career after the breakup of his history-making band. “We all know the importance of John Lennon as part of The Beatles,” he said. “But I felt it was more important to concentrate on his post Beatles’ life and career, both good and bad, so that readers would get the clearest possible idea about who he was as a creative entity, husband and father.” The comic is part of Bluewater’s Tribute series, which has previously profiled music icons like Lennon’s bandmate Paul McCartney, as well as David Bowie and Keith Richards.

– U.K. publisher Bloomsbury has declared Feb. 5, 2015 as Britain’s first official Harry Potter Book Night, a nationwide evening dedicated to celebrating the beloved, bestselling series—and getting young readers excited about the series. Bloomsbury Children’s books will partner with community schools and libraries and host a slew of public events, as well as offer a free, downloadable Harry Potter Book Night kit that will include posters, invitations and games. “The Harry Potter books got so many children into reading,” said Wendy Cooling, founder of the children’s books nonprofit Bookstart. “The power of JK [sic] Rowling’s storytelling is as fresh and strong as ever and it will be wonderful to celebrate that and welcome in the next generation of readers on Harry Potter Book Night next February.” [The Telegraph]

– Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick doesn’t hit bookshelves until spring 2016—but The Weinstein Company has already secured the rights for a film adaptation of the upcoming young adult novel from Little, Brown. Quick authored Silver Linings Playbook, which the studio adapted into the box-office success and Oscar-nominated film in 2012. [GalleyCat]