Two weeks after customs officials detained British memoirist Sebastian Horsley and prevented him from entering the United States, the PEN American Center has issued a letter of appeal to the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department to review the case and allow the author to return to the country. Horsley, who flew back to the U.K. after the incident at Newark Liberty International Airport on March 18, has been invited to paricipate in PEN's World Voices Festival of International Literature at the end of this month.
Officials reportedly detained Horsley when he landed in Newark after they searched the Internet for information about him and his work. After finding references to his past involvement with drugs and prostitution and his participation in a self-crucifixion in the Phillippines eight years ago, they denied him access on grounds of "moral turpitude." Horsley had traveled to the U.S. for a publicity tour for his memoir Dandy in the Underworld (Sceptre, 2007).
"It is of course a matter of grave concern to us when a writer is excluded from the United States after searching his writings and statements for grounds of inadmissibility," PEN president Francine Prose and Larry Siems, director of the organization's Freedom to Write and International Programs, wrote in the letter, which is addressed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Michael Chernoff, the secretary of Homeland Security. "The practice, which puts international writers in a position few American writers would submit to either here or overseas, is based on dubious assumptions of the nature of truth in literature and a poor understanding of the history of provocation, iconoclasm, and personal performance in both American and European letters. It is hard to see the exclusion of Mr. Horsley as anything but a dangerous precedent that could be extended to bar scores of literary figures from a number of countries who challenge conventional mores or write about experiences that, legal or not, are part of the complicated fabric of human society."
The complete text of the letter can be read on PEN's Web site.