Have you ever been stood up by Cory Doctorow? I have. Back in 2010 I was due to interview him at the London Book Fair about his latest novel For The Win. I read his entire back catalogue and planned loads of insightful questions, but when the time came for the interview in the PEN Literary cafe, he didn’t show up. Later, I received an e-mail from him with a preposterous and obviously made-up excuse about how his plane had been grounded by a volcano. So it was me on the stage with an empty chair. (My hastily written chat standard performance poem “The Empty Chair a.k.a Cory Doctorow Is Not Here Today” rocked YouTube, with literally dozens of views.)
Cory’s ash smudged seat was reminiscent of an old PEN tradition. At official meetings and during the annual congress, writers share the stage with an empty chair to symbolise and remember those writers who are absent. They may be in prison, or in exile, or in hospital, or in a grave, because of what they have written. Banned books week is the perfect time to remember these missing authors and poets.