Publisher Kassahun Checole, the founder of the world-known Africa World Press and the Red Sea Press, has been named the winner of PEN Eritrea’s Freedom of Expression Award 2023. This year’s Awards Committee comprised Habtom Weldeyowhaness, Yirgalem Fisseha and Yonatan Tsighe (Dr), received a long list of contestants, and after an in-depth examination of the conditions, the judges selected Kassahun Checole as the winner of the Award.
Kassahun’s colossal contribution to Eritrean and African literature requires another volume to give it full justice. Kassahun’s publishing activities, which he began in 1983, have enabled the voices of the subaltern to be heard. He produced books and magazines that inspired and continue to inspire many young, would-be African writers. Kassahun has published over 3,500 titles by thousands of authors in some 20 languages on various themes—African history, indigenous religions, and literature and art.
He was one of the organisers of the January 2000 “African Languages and Literatures” conference held in Asmara, rightly named “Against All Odds”. He was also one of those who toiled for the political liberation of post-independence Eritrea— the G-13, a group of Eritrean academics and professionals— signatories of the “Berlin Manifesto”, in which they stated their grave concerns about the overall deteriorating situations and demanded genuine reforms in Eritrea. The Berlin Manifesto was a forerunner of the G-15, a group in Eritrea that opposed the policy of President Isaias Afewerki, his postponing of elections and his failure to implement the constitution.
Kassahun has produced thousands of literature and hundreds of books – used as textbooks in various educational settings, in addition to his outstanding services in documentation for educational and research purposes.
He has published books by many prominent Eritrean writers such as Abeba Tesfagiorgis, Alemseghed Tesfay, Ghirmai Negash, Bereket Habteslasie, Rev. Ezra Ghebremedhin and many others. Nobel laureates East Timorese José Ramos-Horta and the South African bishop Desmond Tutu, Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’, Noam Chomsky, Sonia Sanchez as well as Basil Davidson are among the hundreds of international authors and laureates their works published by Kassahun. He is a strong supporter and activist of the Pan-African movement.
Award committee chair Yonatan Tsighe said: “Checole’s efforts and achievements in documenting and researching indigenous knowledge of Eritrea is phenomenal. The Award committee members are honoured to present him with this Award on behalf of all member writers and journalists.”
Poetess and journalist Yirgalem Fisseha commented: “Kassahun has devoted his prime and old age to publishing literary works, and his unremitting efforts and productivity stand exemplary to all lovers of literature and art”.
The PEN Eritrea Freedom of Expression Award was established in 2019 by PEN Eritrea in Exile to recognise an individual, a group, or an institution with outstanding merits for advancing literature and freedom of expression in an Eritrean context. The Award is announced every year on September 18th to signify the date of the assault on freedom of expression and to champion the courageous journalists, writers and government critics languishing in inhumane conditions in Eritrean prisons since September 2001. The award winner receives a certificate of recognition, a medal and $1,000.
Accordingly, the 2023 PEN Eritrea Awards Committee has unanimously decided that the world-class publisher Kassahun Checole will be the winner of the 2023 PEN Eritrea Awards for his contributions to printing and freedom of expression.
Kassahun said, “I feel honoured because the award places me within the circle of those Eritreans who have paid and continue to pay a heavy price for acting on their patriotic duty to stand for democracy and freedom in our beloved country and Africa as a whole.”
A graduate with distinction from SUNY Binghamton in Sociology and Political Economy, Mr. Checole has taught at Rutgers University and El Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City. He was one of the founders of the first graduate program in African Studies in Latin America.
Kassahun will receive the Award at a ceremony hosted by PEN Eritrea on October 8th in Antwerp-Belgium, alongside its annual meeting, which will be held from October 7th to 8th.
The event will be live on fb@PENEritrea