International Publishers Association Announces Prix Voltaire Shortlist

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Honoring fortitude in the face of challenges to freedom of expression, the IPA Prix Voltaire can recognize both people and institutions.

Image – iStockphoto: SoloBird

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

A ‘Striking Diversity of Nominations’
Five people and one publishing house make up the six shortlisted nominees for this year’s IPA Prix Voltaire, a list being announced at this hour on Wednesday (June 28) by the International Publishers Association (IPA) in Geneva.

“Each has shown genuine courage in confronting attempts to deny their freedom to publish, and in taking risks to give writers their voice.”Kristenn Einarsson

The shortlist comprises nominees from Myanmar, Iran, North Korea, Sweden, and Turkey, and has been selected by the association’s nine-person Freedom to Publish Committee, made up of nine publishing professionals from Argentina, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Thailand, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

The lineup of candidates from which the 2017 Prix Voltaire winner will be chosen is:

  • Evrensel Publishing House (Turkey)
  • Günay, Turhan (Turkey)
  • Minhai, Gui (Sweden)
  • Kim, Jeong-ae (North Korea)
  • Paraspour, Azadeh (Iran)
  • Way, Moe (Myanmar)

Kristenn Einarsson

In a prepared statement, the chair of the Freedom to Publish Committee, publisher Kristenn Einarsson is quoted, saying, “The diversity of nominations this year was very striking.

“We received 21 submissions for 14 separate nominees from around the world, each with a unique backstory.

“The committee feels each has shown genuine courage in confronting attempts to deny their freedom to publish, and in taking risks to give writers their voice.”

Earlier this year, IPA communications director Ben Steward had reported to Publishing Perspectives an interesting concentration in Asian nominations. That focus has widened since the time of that article in March.

The Prix Voltaire is designed to honor fortitude in the face of challenges to freedom of expression, and to the freedom to publish in particular. In describing who can be nominated, the IPA’s guidelines read:

“Any individual, group or organization can nominate a publisher, which is defined as an individual, collective or organization that provides others with the means to share their ideas in written form, including via digital platforms.

Nominees will have recently published controversial works amid pressure, threats, intimidation or harassment.

Alternatively, they may be publishers with a distinguished record of many years spent upholding the freedom to publish and freedom of expression.”

And in this difficult and often contentious year of fraught politics in so many parts of the world, the award seems to have even more currency than usual. A point often made by those who work with the Prix Voltaire program is that “publishers who provide authors with the tools to disseminate their written ideas assume the same risks as the writers, themselves.”

Another way to say this is that the IPA Prix Voltaire honors publishing courage.

‘Pressure, Threats, Initimidation, Harassment’

Saudi online publisher Raif Badawi won last year’s IPA Prix Voltaire

In its materials for the press, the IPA’s commentary says, “Nominees have usually published controversial works amid pressure, threats, intimidation or harassment, be it from governments, other authorities or private interests. Alternatively, they may be publishers with a distinguished record of upholding the values of freedom to publish and freedom of expression.

“For the purposes of the IPA Prix Voltaire, the definition of ‘publisher’ is an individual, collective or organization that provides others with the means to share their ideas in written form, including via digital platforms.”

The 2016 Prix Voltaire winner was still-imprisoned Saudi dissident and online publisher Raif Badawi, whose wife, Ensaf Haidar, still is locked in the struggle to see her husband freed.

Ensaf Haidar

A new interview with her by Jack Moore at Newsweek (June 26) quotes her, saying, “Hope is always my guide in this campaign for Raif’s release.

“And I have to say that we’re all looking with great anticipation and hope to the next steps of the young prince,” Mohammad bin Salman.

“We have hope that his appointment,” Haidar tells Moore, “will be the beginning of a new chapter in dealing with the prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia, including my husband Raif.”

The Prix Voltaire carries a cash prize of 10,000 Swiss francs (US$10,412). It’s backed by a group of sponsors this year including:

The Freedom to Publish Committee is to choose its winner this summer, and the prize is to be conferred at Sweden’s Gothenburg Book Fair on September 29.

Below is information about each of the shortlisted candidates for the 2017 Prix Voltaire.

The 2017 IPA Prix Voltaire Shortlist

The following information is provided by the International Publishers Association.

Evrensel Publishing House. Founded in 1988, Evrensel–the word means universal–has published 689 titles in multiple genres, embracing progressive literary and cultural values. It’s a multilingual publishing house with a catalogue that’s 10-percent Kurdish, but also encompasses work in Armenian, Assyrian and Arabic.

Following the sweeping emergency powers assumed by the Turkish government in the wake of the July 2016 coup attempt, Evrensel Kültür Magazine was summarily closed because of its links to the company Doga Basin Yayin, which had also been shut down by a followup decree on October 29, 2016.

Evrensel Publishing House, as part of Doga Basin Yayin, was forced to stop trading when its bank accounts were frozen and assets seized by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.


Turhan Günay

Turhan Günay: Turkish editor, publisher, and literary critic.

Turhan Günay is a veteran of Cumhuriyet Books, the book publishing branch of the daily Cumhuriyet newspaper, for more than 30 years.

He has also worked as editorial director of the Cumhuriyet Book Supplement since February 1990. The weekly supplement has published book reviews and interviews with writers, introducing Turkish readers to innumerable authors and books from Europe, Latin and North America, Asia and Africa.

On November 13, 2016, Günay was arrested along with a number of Cumhuriyet newspaper columnists and editors. Günay, who defines himself as a “hard-line secularist” is accused of being a member of the so-called FETO religious terror organization and the Kurdish PKK terror organization. He remains in detention in Turkey.


Gui Minhai

Gui Minhai: Swedish book publisher.

Gui Minhai worked as a Hong Kong-based publisher and bookseller who specialized in producing fast-moving political potboilers that were critical of the Chinese leadership through his Mighty Current publishing house and Causeway Bay Bookstore.

He was kidnapped by Chinese agents from his holiday home in Thailand in October 2015, resurfaced in Chinese custody several months later, and remains in detention in China, incommunicado, without legal or consular assistance.

Gui Minhai has spent much time contributing to the free circulation of ideas, participating in human rights conferences, and sitting on the board of Independent Chinese PEN. His treatment at the hands of the Chinese authorities has had a chilling effect on Hong Kong’s once vibrant and audacious publishing industry.


Kim Jeong-Ae

Kim Jeong-Ae: North Korean novelist, journalist, activist, and publisher.

Kim Jeong-Ae escaped from North Korea in 2003, reaching South Korea in 2005 via Vietnam and Thailand. She works as a reporter for Radio Free Asia, broadcasting into North Korea, and is secretary-general of North Korean Writers in Exile PEN Center. She received the North Korea Human Rights Literary Award last year.

Kim’s work with the PEN center enables North Korean defectors who have left their homeland for the freedom to express themselves through writing. An example: the establishment of the North Korean Writers in Exile PEN Literary Magazine, managed and written by North Korean defectors under her leadership.

Kim Jeoing-Ae has faced numerous threats from North Korean agents while living in the South.

She’s setting up a publishing company with the reported intention of helping “defectors who were unable to freely express their thoughts in words or writing in their homeland to provide uncensored accounts of their emotional journey and the cruelty they faced in the North.”


Azadeh Parsapour’s Nogaam Publishing: Iranian publisher of censored Iranian authors.

Launched in December 2012 in London, Parsapour’s Nogaam Publishing uses crowdfunding to publish and promote Persian digital publishing projects, which are made available free of charge under Creative Commons licensing.

Nogaam provides a platform on which authors can earn both visibility and royalties.

Nogaam has received more than 300 manuscripts, and has published 40 titles, some of them on subjects that are taboo in Iran, including sex, LGBT issues, ethnic minorities, and women’s rights. In 2016, Nogaam held the first Persian-language book fair outside Iran.


Moe Way

Moe Way: Burmese book publisher, writer, and poet.

Moe Way was already a published poet before opening The Eras publishing house in 2001 in response to a lack of poetry publishing in Myanmar. All publishing in Myanmar is subject to strict state scrutiny and censorship, but The Eras tries to push the boundaries of what can appear in print. Moe Way has steered the company through some tough times, including government restrictions on The Eras’ ability to operate financially.

The Eras is one of the few Myanmar publishing houses that persists in publishing work on political issues, journalism, and youth issues, although many books submitted by The Eras have not made it past the government’s Press Scrutiny Board.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He is also co-owner and editor with Jane Friedman of The Hot Sheet, the newsletter for trade and indie authors. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, at London's The Bookseller. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.