Worldwide Reading Event: Local Authors Support Jailed Poet Ashraf Fayadh

Live lit events in Chicago can achieve various things at different times. They can be a celebration, perhaps for a new book. They can be a monthly or an annual event. They can be a showcase for new voices; they can take place in a theater or (most likely) in a bar; they can be grandiose, boring, eye-opening, disturbing; they can be a party. Sometimes they can be a grave reminder that not everyone around the world is granted the artistic freedoms of expression and assembly that we are afforded in our country. The Worldwide Reading event taking place at Two Hearted Queen in Lakeview on Thursday night fits the latter description.

Credit: Dmitry Samarov

Credit: Dmitry Samarov

Ashraf Fayadh is a Palestinian poet living in Saudi Arabia who was arrested and sentenced to death by a Saudi court. His crime? Renouncing Islam, the official religion of the Saudi state. His accusers believe that his poetry and his art are blasphemous and promote atheism. Fayadh was held without access to a lawyer and without due process throughout the trial and sentencing. Symbolic of an increasingly authoritarian and puritanical environment limiting free expression, this death sentence constitutes an atrocious human rights violation for which the Saudi Arabian government should be held accountable.

An initiative called Worldwide Reading, led by the international literature festival Berlin (ilb), is hosting a series of readings on January 14th in over forty countries to raise awareness for the absurd crimes of the Saudi court system. An appeal has been made and signed by an international chorus of writers including Slavoj Zizek, Noam Chomsky, Orhan Pamuk, Martin Amis, Edwidge Danticat, Maaza Mengiste, Jennifer Clement, Jostein Gaarder, Sjón, Alberto Chimal, and many more from over sixty countries. This is the seventeenth event organized by the ilb. Past events have been in support of Edward Snowden, Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, Russian punk rock group Pussy Riot, and other political prisoners, as well as remembrances for those that have lost their lives fighting for basic human freedoms.

The overall objective of this petition and these readings (as stated by the ilb) is to call on international governments to “intervene on behalf of Ashraf Fayadh as a first step towards pressuring Saudi Arabia to raise its human rights standards…We further demand that the United Nations suspend Saudi Arabia from the Human Rights Council until its abysmal record on upholding civil liberties improves. We also call on Western governments, especially in the UK and the US, to acknowledge the problems inherent in maintaining cozy, unquestioning relations with a country renowned for systematic human rights abuses.”

One of these readings is happening in Chicago on Thursday night. Organized by Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting, The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins), the evening will also feature authors Bill Hillmann (Mozos: A Decade Running with the Bulls of Spain, The Old Neighborhood) and Dmitry Samarov (Hack: Stories From a Chicago Cab, quasi-Luddite). Whether or not you are familiar with the works or the story of Fayadh, attending this event shows solidarity with the international community and the jailed poet, raises awareness, and advances the global conversation around human rights.

The reading will take place at Two Hearted Queen (1201 W Roscoe) at 6 PM on Thursday, January 14th. This will be the first time a worldwide reading event will take place in Chicago. For more information, go to


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