The “Freedom to Write” lecture took place on Tuesday 25 April as the first of many events in the PEN New York World Voices festival. For more information see

Discussed: Günter Grass and conflict, the ruthless limits set on free expression, Arthur Miller and Harold Pinter’s trip to Istanbul, the solidarity of writers, the inextricable bonds between free expression and dignity, internal civil wars, the connection between apples and sex, similarities between children and novelists, the “Dixie Chick” effect, the path from wannabe painters to great novelists.

Part 1: Introduction by Salman Rushdie

In which Salman Rushdie talks about Günther Grass, “Group 47” and dialogue between America and the rest of the world.

“We now stand at a time when a different kind of conflict, which is as much a cultural and intellectual conflict as a physical conflict, engulfs us all. [A kind of conflict] in which it’s very difficult to know how to act for the best, and in which we feel that language is often used for the service of untruths rather truth. And in which it may well be important for writers to begin to renew our commitment to language and to truth.”

Part 2: Orhan Pamuk’s “Freedom to Write” lecture

In which Orhan Pamuk talks about freedom of expression, and the legacy of the Iraq war.

“I always have difficulty expressing my political judgments in a clear, emphatic and strong way. I feel pretentious; as if I am saying things which are not quite true … this is because I know I cannot reduce my thoughts about life to the music of a single voice, and a single point of view. I am after all a novelist, the kind of novelist who makes it his business to understand all of his characters … especially the bad ones. Living as I do in a world where, in a very short time, someone who has been a victim of tyranny and oppression can suddenly become one of the oppressors. I know also that holding strong beliefs about the nature of things and people is itself a difficult enterprise.”

Part 3: Margaret Atwood and Orhan Pamuk in conversation

In which Margaret Atwood and Orhan Pamuk converse on shame, taboos, “street scenes”, and deciding to be a writer.

Margaret Atwood: As you soon as you tell someone not to do something, immediately they start thinking: how can I do it? It is a very teenage reaction.

Orhan Pamuk: I think being an author is exactly like feeling like a child – occasionally not always. Having a strong sense of responsibility of your doing something very serious, just as children who commit themselves to their play, and forget themselves in play. In one corner of their mind, there is deep devotion to play – its invention, changing rules. Authors also recognise the rules of the world, and in their childish devotion to these rules, move them around, and show us things which we never perceive in life. But, once someone says “Don’t play with your toys like that, you might break them,” then the whole game is spoilt.