A Syrian author forced to flee her homeland after publishing an insider account of the revolution has been given a literary award for her courage.
On Monday, British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy named Syrian writer Samar Yazbek the international writer of courage with whom she will share the PEN/Pinter Prize.
Organizers announced Duffy as winner of the PEN/Pinter Prize in July. She worked with the international freedom of expression organization Writers at Risk program to select Yazbek, author of Woman in the Crossfire.
The book recounts the first few months of the Syrian uprising from its protest beginnings last March and combines testimony from ordinary Syrians as well as Yazbek's own story.
The 42-year-old journalist and novelist, who had voiced support for the uprising online and participated in the protests, received hate mail and her family disowned her. She was also arrested and beaten.
Yazbek believes she was spared harsher treatment because she is an Alawite, the same religious group as Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Instead, the Syrian regime began a campaign that questioned her morality, putting her in extreme danger in the Muslim country.
She ultimately fled to Paris with her daughter in July 2011. However, Yazbek continues to write about the Syrian rebellion, saying she returns to her country under cover.
She called winning the Pen/Pinter award "an important sign of the recognition of the Syrian people's struggle."
The annual prize, created in memory of the playwright Harold Pinter, is given to a British writer of outstanding literary merit who is then asked to name a "Writer of Courage" who demonstrates a "fierce intellectual determination … to define the real truth of our lives and our societies."
"Carol Ann Duffy's recognition of Samar Yazbek's courage in writing about Syria's revolution from the inside could not come at a more appropriate time," Lady Antonia Fraser, Pinter's widow, said Monday after the prize ceremony in London.
Yazbek wrote about women's issues in newspapers and journals prior to the uprising, as well as novels that challenge her country’s taboos, including the status of women and the military regime that runs Syria — depicted in her second novel Salsal (Clay). Her third novel, Cinnamon, is set to be published in English and examines the social divide in Syria through the eyes of a servant who enters into a lesbian relationship with her employer.