And Now for Something Completely Different: Tortured, Jailed, Exiled, but Not Silenced

Sheryn Morris, Librarian, Literature & Fiction,
red orange yellow flames with banned books

During Banned Books Week we celebrate freedom of speech and freedom to read. Over the years books, paintings, and movies have been banned, and their creators have been imprisoned, tortured, or exiled in attempting to silence or obliterate them. Libraries are bastions and defenders of diverse and multifarious viewpoints. It is the mission and responsibility of libraries to do this, and it is why the American Library Association, in union with other organizations, supports Banned Books Week.

Loud and Clear: Writers and Others Who Found Ways to Express Themselves

Ai Weiwei's Blog: Writings, Interviews, and Digital Rants, 2006-2009
Ai, Weiwei.

For his outspoken criticism of modern China, contemporary artist and activist Ai Weiwei was followed, beaten, put in prison, and finally was able to leave his homeland and now lives in Berlin.

The Annotated Prison Writings of Oscar Wilde
Wilde, Oscar, 1854-1900,

Oscar Wilde was sentenced to hard labor in prison for "gross indecency" with other men, aka homosexual acts, but jail did not prevent Wilde from writing.

Project Censored

The title of a series of books, published yearly, that documents, “News that didn’t make the news—and why. The top censored stories and media analysis. Press freedoms on a ‘post-truth’ world."

Christ Stopped at Eboli: The Story of a Year
Levi, Carlo, 1902-1975.

Carlo Levi was an Italian artist, writer and doctor, and an anti-fascist before and during World War II.  He was charged and sent to internal exile in the small town of Eboli.

Dalton Trumbo: Blacklisted Hollywood Radical
Ceplair, Larry,

Dalton Trumbo was one of the Hollywood Ten who opposed and refused to answer questions before HUAC. He lived in exile but continued to be a ghostwriter for Hollywood. In 1993, he received his long overdue Academy Award for The Brave One, and later a posthumous Academy Award for Roman Holiday, 1953.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison: A Biography
Marty, Martin E., 1928-

Lutheran pastor and theologian who was imprisoned for two years and executed by the Nazis for his role in the plot to kill Hitler.

Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Struggle that Changed a Nation
Rieder, Jonathan

Baptist minister, civil rights and nonviolent activist, Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested for unlawful political protests against racial segregation. On April 16, 1963, he wrote an open letter to the world, stating there is a moral obligation to break unjust laws, in nonviolent ways, instead of waiting forever for justice to come through the legal system.

The GULAG Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, I-II
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr Isaevich, 1918-2008.

In 1945, fighting in East Prussia, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was arrested and sentenced to prison for anti-Soviet propaganda for criticising Stalin’s war plans and the need for a new regime.  He spent 8 eight years in prisons and labor camps, but continued to write.

Guernica: The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon
Van Hensbergen, Gijs.

In 1937 Picasso created a huge mural painting (11’ 5” by 25’ 6”) in shades of gray, black and white to protest the Nazi German and Italian bombings of Guernica, a village in Basque Spain. The painting was a political and humanitarian protest, and its journey to different countries became a protest in itself. There are two reputed comments made by Picasso, one in response to being shown a photograph of the painting by a German officer, who said, “Did you do that?” Picasso responded, “No, you did.” In response to being asked about his political views, Picasso pointed to the large mural.

Hollywood Exile: Or How I Learned to Love the Blacklist: A Memoir
Gordon, Bernard, 1918-2007.

Bernard Gordon was a blacklisted writer/producer who moved to Europe, but continued to be a ghostwriter for many major motion pictures made in Hollywood.

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood up for Education and Changed the World
Yousafzai, Malala

Malala was a young girl who would not be denied an education, despite being threatened by the Taliban, who shot her in the head. She lives in exile and continues to speak out for justice and human rights. In 2014, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

I am Spartacus!: Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist
Douglas, Kirk, 1916-

Kirk Douglas provides the tumultuous backstory to the making of the film Spartacus, begun during the Hollywood blacklist. The film was based on the work of two writers, Howard Fast and Dalton Trumbo, who were jailed for refusing to testify before HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee).

Letters to Olga: June 1979-September 1982
Havel, Vaclav.

Czech dissident and playwright Vaclav Havel was sentenced to three years in prison for political dissent and human rights activities. He was permitted to write one letter a week to his wife. He later became President of Czechoslovakia, and of the Czech Republic.

My Prison, My Home: One Woman's Story of Captivity in Iran
Esfandiari, Haleh

In 2006 while visiting her mother in Tehran, Iran, Haleh Esfandiari, the American Director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East Program, was suddenly imprisoned and interrogated for nearly eight months. Part of the time she was in solitary confinement in the notorious Evin Prison.

No Enemies, No Hatred: Selected Essays and Poems
Liu, Xiaobo, 1955-2017.

Liu Xiaobo was a Chinese writer (2008-2017), literary critic and human rights activist, who was tried and imprisoned. In 2010 he was awarded Nobel Peace Prize.

The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela
Mandela, Nelson, 1918-2013,

Arrested in 1962 for anti-apartheid activities in South Africa, Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison. He was the first democratically elected president of South Africa, 1994-1999, and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number
Timerman, Jacobo, 1923-1999.

During the 1970s Argentina was run by a right-wing military regime. Newspaper publisher Jacobo Timerman documents his arrest, torture, and jailing.

Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran
Ebadi, Shirin

Iranian lawyer, judge and human rights activist, was threatened, jailed, and suspended from practicing law. In exile from Iran, Shirin Ebadi lives in the United Kingdom, and in 2003 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She continues to openly criticize injustice in Iran and elsewhere.

Wrestling With the Devil: A Prison Memoir
Ngugi wa Thiongʼo

World-renowned writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o was jailed in Kenya’s Kamiti Maximum Security Prison and recounts what it was like to write a novel while under 24-hour watch.


The following watchdog organizations provide continuous information about writers and others who are being censored, tortured, jailed or exiled. You can stay informed by subscribing to their emails.