Was the Wednesday August 4 PEN Club meeting, during which several writers read texts, a demonstration against George Bush or a position-taking in favor of John Kerry?

The PEN Club has rules that prohibit support for a political candidate, however, it’s an organization that has always fought for freedom of expression in different countries, and, as Salman Rushdie reminded us during that meeting, it’s important not to ignore a problem when it knocks on our own door.

For there are clearly, at this time, in this country, attacks on freedom of expression, censorship, all of that justified in the name of the war against terrorism, as though that struggle authorized everything. In particular, we demand that the Patriot Act, which allows many censorship and surveillance activities that attack freedom of expression and respect for privacy, be amended.

Outside of this meeting that focuses, as you say, on principles and the present administration’s breaches of those principles, have writers enlisted in favor of John Kerry?

Of course. Some of those who were there Wednesday night, including myself, had already met two months ago at the same spot, Cooper Union, also to give readings, that time of texts we had written ourselves. Last Wednesday, it was other authors’ texts. I read Henry David Thoreau’s “Slavery in Massachusetts”, written in 1854.

This first meeting was an initiative of the “Downtown for Democracy” organization to raise money for the Kerry Campaign in Pennsylvania and in Ohio, two highly contested states.

Moreover, a rather amusing dictionary is coming out any day, “The Future Dictionary of America”, to which 150 writers have contributed. We’ve invented new words or redefined old ones for the future. The proceeds from the sale of this dictionary will be a contribution to the Democratic campaign.

Why are writers, as such, mobilizing this way?

This is, in fact, the first time since Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, there were many interventions, many meetings of intellectuals and writers. And then there was nothing. But now, everything is going so badly, everything is so dreadful, we really feel a duty.

Do you think George Bush is a threat to American democracy?

I think we need to rethink, to redefine what “American” means today. What people, and not only artists, feel, is that we’re in the process of losing our country. Something in the spirit of our country has been confiscated by a faction of the extreme right. These people don’t believe in democracy.

In the United States, beyond any differences between Democrats and Republicans, there has always been a common vision of America, a faith in the Constitution, a respect for the law and for some fundamental principles. If we lose these things that unify us and that have attracted so many people throughout the whole world to us, we will not get them back.