Montclair State and PEN Present “Guantánamo Diary: A Reading and Conversation”

Photo: Dan Epstein Photography

The “Guantanamo Diary: A Reading and Conversation” panel, from left, moderator Leonard Lopate, attorney Nancy Hollander and editor Larry Siems.

Literary luminaries, legal experts, and arts and media leaders came together at Montclair State University’s Alexander Kasser Theater on the evening of April 27 for “Guantánamo Diary: A Reading and Conversation.” Presented by the University’s School of Communication and Media and PEN American Center, the event was an encore presentation of a sold-out New York City event presented by PEN last February that garnered national and international press coverage.

Using Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s book Guantánamo Diary as a starting point, “Guantánamo Diary” explored issues of national security, prison life, free expression and the legacy of 9/11. The first and only diary by a still-imprisoned Guantánamo detainee, Guantánamo Diary is a compelling first-hand account of imprisonment, torture and day-to-day interactions in the infamous detention camp.

Readers included actor and playwright Wallace Shawn, New Yorker staff writer DT Max, short story writer Deborah Eisenberg and novelists Emily St. John Mandel, Joshua Ferris, Francine Prose and Elissa Schappell. Leonard Lopate, host of WNYC’s daily talk show, The Leonard Lopate Show, moderated a panel discussion with criminal defense attorney Nancy Hollander, and former PEN Freedom to Write director and Guantánamo Diary editor Larry Siems.

Three years into his captivity at Guantánamo, Slahi began writing a diary that recounts both his life before he was seized by the United States and his experiences as a detainee. Guantánamo Diary is not only a vivid record of a miscarriage of justice, but a deeply personal memoir that is at once terrifying, humorous and gracious.

“In the context of the continuing debate about both terrorism and the future of Guantánamo, we were proud to partner with PEN on this provocative event,” said School of Communication and Media Director Merrill Brown.

“More than thirteen years on, it is easy to forget that 122 men remain in detention at Guantánamo, with little prospect of justice or freedom,” said PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel. “Guantánamo Diary makes the riveting story of one detainee come alive. We’re thrilled to bring it to audiences as engaged and informed as the people of Montclair.”

Slahi’s lawyers fought for seven years to have the historically significant manuscript declassified and cleared for public release. Published by Little, Brown and Company, Guantánamo Diary was released worldwide in January 2015, and has since formed the basis of an ongoing international campaign to free Slahi.

The evening concluded with a reception at which members of the audience met and mingled with the event participants and fellow audience members.

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