Ferlinghetti Turns Down Hungarian Poetry Prize


Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who published Allen Ginsberg’s Howl in 1956 and founded the legendary City Lights Books in San Francisco, was recently named the inaugural recipient of the Janus Pannonius International Poetry Prize from the Hungarian division of PEN. However, Ferlinghetti declined to accept the 50,000 euro award on the grounds that it received funding from the Hungarian government, which has been accused of violating free speech and civil liberties. Ferlinghetti explained in a letter to former Hungarian Secretary of State for Culture and Hungarian PEN Club president Geza Szocs that his decision not to accept the award was because some of the 50,000 euro prize money came from the Hungarian government:

Dear Geza Szocs,

After careful research into the Pannonius Prize and its sponsors, including the present Hungarian government, I have come to the following conclusions: Since the Prize is partially funded by the present Hungarian government, and since the policies of this right-wing regime tend toward authoritarian rule and the consequent curtailing of freedom of expression and civil liberties, I find it impossible for me to accept the Prize in the United States. Thus I must refuse the Prize in its present terms.

However, assuming the total devotion of the Hungarian PEN Club and yourself to freedom of speech and social justice, I propose that the Prize money be used to set up a fund to be administered by the Hungarian PEN Club, said fund to be devoted solely to the publication of Hungarian authors whose writings support total freedom of speech, civil rights, and social justice. These are the only terms under which I can accept the Pannonius Prize.

In defense of individual freedom and democratic institutions, I am faithfully yours,

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

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