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A publisher in exile: PEN Center honors Madjid Mohit

Sarah Judith Hofmann / egNovember 12, 2015

Iranian-German publisher Madjid Mohit has received a PEN Center award. Thanks to his tireless commitment to authors in exile, their works can be read. He too had to flee his country - but he never gave up literature.

Madjid Mohit, Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/I. Wagner
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/I. Wagner

Madjid Mohit left Tehran and landed at Frankfurt Airport with a fake passport. That was 25 years ago. He spent the three following years waiting in an asylum center without knowing if his asylum application would be approved or not. He also spent that period of time not knowing if he would ever be able to pursue his career again - the vocation which meant everything to him and led him to put everything on the line in Iran.

If you had asked him at the time what he wished to obtain from Germany, Mohit muses, he would have told you: "The only thing I hoped for was patience."

A quarter of a century later, Mohit is standing on the stage of the Staatstheater Darmstadt, just a half hour away from Frankfurt Airport. He's there to receive recognition for his achievements in the very profession he did not want to give up: publisher.

The president of the PEN Center Germany, Josef Haslinger, handed out the Hermann-Kesten Prize to Madjid Mohit on Wednesday (11.11.2015). The award of the writer's association PEN (the abbreviation stands for Poets, Essayists and Novelists), is endowed with a cash prize of 10,000 euros ($10,740). The award was named after a former president of honor of the PEN Center, Hermann Kesten (1900-1996), and has been granted since 1985 to honor the "special services of persecuted writers." The award is also sponsored by the Hessian Ministry for Science and Art. Previous winners include Günter Grass, Anna Politkovskaya und Liu Xiaobo.

This year's accolade went to Madjid Mohit for his outstanding work as a publisher in exile. He established his publishing company, Sujet, in 2008 in Bremen, the German city where he now lives. "Sujet" means "subject" in French and in Persian too. Mohit has a favorite subject as a publisher: freedom. It's not that all the books he publishes are about freedom, but without him these authors might have never been read.

Madjid Mohit, Copyright: DW/S. Hofmann
Madjid Mohit: A commited publisher, poet and musicianImage: DW/S. Hofmann

Creating aerial roots

At the beginning, Sujet would publish mainly Iranian authors who were banned in their home country. "Aerial roots literature," is how Mohit calls these works from Iran. Many of the authors live like him in Germany, as they had to flee the censorship and repression in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Mohit remembers seeing 3,000 copies of the book "Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Márquez being destroyed when he was 18 years old. It is still one of his favorite books today.

These authors who have found a second home in Germany "enrich the local culture of the country," said the PEN Center.

The publishing company Sujet has also broadened its mission, as it now publishes Persian literature in German and German literature in Persian.

A large picture through literature

In a speech during the award ceremony, author Inge Buck explained that Mohid "comes from a family of publishers. His grandfather prepared the first Persian-German dictionary and his father, head of Mohit Puiblishing in Tehran, published it in 1958." Madjid Mohit is not just a publisher with a vision. He also writes poetry and music. He sings both in German and Persian, while playing the guitar.

People who are now coming to Germany from Syria, Eritra and other countries will also need to be patient, said Mohit in his acceptance speech. To give him courage when he arrived, he spent his time reading "Hundred Years of Solitude."

"Literature can teach us to break away from our own existence and to join the experiences of others, which are larger than our own," he added. "Through literature, you get to know humanity, because literature is nothing without humans."