New York, NY, September 30, 2003—PEN American Center, National Coalition Against Censorship and American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression sponsored this reading to reflect on the freedoms to write and read seventy years after the Nazi book burnings. Frances FitzGerald, Margo Jefferson, Adelle Lutz, Rick Moody, Elizabeth Nunez, Grace Paley and Francine Prose joined Master of Ceremonies Reno and the free expression community in New York to mark the opening of Sheryl Oring’s installation, Writer’s Block. 

Writer’s Block, Sheryl Oring’s installation of sculptural cages filled with 600 typewriters from the 1920s and 1930s, premiered in 1999 on Berlin’s Bebelplatz, scene of the largest of the Nazi book burnings. Intended both to evoke the 1933 event and to provoke greater examination of contemporary threats to freedom of expression, the installation has also been shown at the Jewish Museum, in Berlin; the Hungarian National Library, in Budapest; and the Boston Public Library. Bryant Park was selected as the site for the New York show because of its historical significance: in May 1943, on the tenth anniversary of the German book burnings, New Yorkers gathered here in commemoration and protest.

Participants read from a variety of works including eyewitness accounts of the Nazi Book Burnings, reactions by writers whose books were targeted by the Nazis, recent reflections on censorship by Jacobo Timerman (Argentina), Taslima Nasrin (Bangladesh), Wole Soyinka (Nigeria), and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (Burma), and the concurring Supreme Court Opinion of Justice Louis D. Brandeis in the case of Whitney vs. California (1927).

Those in attendance for the reading were urged to lend their support to The Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157) and two related bills that are currently before the US Congress. The Freedom to Read Protection Act, which is before the House, and the two related bills that are now before the Senate, aim to overturn a provision of the USA PATRIOT Act that gives federal investigators unprecedented access to records of what Americans read. A list of co-sponsors of H.R. 1157 is available through ABFFE’s website at http://news.bookweb.org/freeexpression/1257.html. Co-sponsors of the Senate bills can be found through the Library of Congress Web site, THOMAS, http://thomas.loc.gov.

Writer’s Block is on display in Bryant Park from September 27th through October 12th. More information about the installation is available on www.writers-block.org

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660, ext. 105, lsiems@pen.org