Tribute - Moris Farhi 1935 - 2019

I was Programme Director of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee from 1991 to 2006 and Moris Farhi was Chair for several of those years. We worked closely, campaigning on behalf of writers worldwide persecuted or imprisoned for their writing. He was a tireless supporter of free expression and a ferocious advocate of human rights. For three decades Moris was the comrade of many imprisoned writers. Everyone knew his name. He was also my friend, my inspiration and my mentor.

Together we sent out numerous appeals and petitions, we demonstrated outside various embassies, visited writers abroad, hosted them here and attended international PEN congresses. We met released writers from Iran, Kenya, Nigeria, Syria and Turkey among other countries. Moris always travelled with hope in his heart. He was self-assured and believed whole-heartedly in PEN’s ability to change the fate of nations. I think that’s why we were often successful. We never gave up and our tenacity would wear down a regime until they were forced to release a writer or grant us an audience just to shut us up.  

Moris loved a particular Turkish restaurant in Highbury, we also hung out near his publisher, Saqi Books, in Westbourne Grove, attended book launches, and had meetings or dinner wherever PEN was based. Moris always enjoyed a glass of Raqi and he’d smoke illicit cigarettes while we gossiped. When Moris drove, we would argue about the best route home – he claimed to have been a taxi driver as well as a wrestler, actor and writer. He always took the longest way to mine – perhaps he just enjoyed our chats at the end of an evening. He would often counsel me on my love life and promised to walk me down the aisle should I ever get married.

We remained friends after PEN, and I often sought his advice. I only began to see less of him when he moved to Brighton, but we remained in contact. I loved all his books and often asked him to read at events I had curated. To this day I use an extract from his novel Young Turk in my creative writing teaching. I commissioned him to write a story, ‘Cloud-Dervish’, for my refugee anthology, A Country of Refuge, published in 2016. For my latest launch in 2018, ill-health prevented him from attending. He wrote with his customary kindness: “I’ll be there in spirit as I always am with your wonderful work and achievements.”

Loving Moris was easy and I know he truly knew and loved me. It’s such a privilege to have known him. He was there through the deaths of my mother and my aunt, Josephine Pullein-Thompson, who was his PEN friend before me. He fought like a lion for those who had been imprisoned unjustly and displayed the same tenacity when he thought I was being treated unfairly. He was the kindest, bravest, truest person I’ve ever known. Like so many, I am bereft without him. Dear, sweet Moris, rest in peace.