Maureen Duffy at 80: In Times Like These


Header image: Signatures and well wishes from friends and colleagues at the European Writers' Council.

On Maureen

by Katalin Budai


I met Maureen for the first time in 1991 and the story started because of the EWC (at that time the abbreviation meant European Writers’ Congress, now it is European Writers’ Council).

EWC invited Hungary, of which I am a representative, to a meeting in Oslo right after the Eastern-European changes (some refer to it as the “bloodless revolution”). EWC took up the relationship with the Hungarian Writers’ Association. At that time I worked as an editor of the literary weekly of this society – at that time the only one which was nationwide. As I spoke English, I was based in the building of the Association, and was asked to represent the country in this field. It meant “getting up to speed” quickly. I had the chance to learn faster than on an adult course how to behave as a self-confident citizen and at the same time as an actor in the creative field. It was a brand new situation: no more state-owned publishers, no more one Soviet-type writers’ associations, no more leisurely and abundantly financed culture. Authors (and artists from all fields) faced a completely new role - and sometimes they still have the old reactions, waiting for the intervention of the paternalistic state. According to the old saying, the cultural government at that time “prohibited, endured or supported” cultural phenomena (in Hungarian all three verbs start with T, we spoke of the 3T-practice). After waking up from a forty-year sleep to see a wild market-oriented world, it was invaluable to get information from the European horizon about the really “good practices”, such as Reprographic Rights, Public Lending Rights, minimum-terms agreements, fixed book-price, etc. There were other professional platforms, but this was the one where authors themselves could get first-hand information about their own interests.

Step by step we got involved in the European scene with the help of the EWC Board. First we were observers, then became members. Maureen Duffy was the vice-president of this unique association forming common efforts for common interests, together with Hans-Peter Bleuel from Germany, Jochen Kelter from Switzerland as President and Lore Schultz-Wild as General Secretary. For ten years we met annually or every second year. Oslo, Bath, Tromso, Athens, Stockholm, Vienna, Amsterdam, Budapest, Warwick: these European cities marked our reunions and our intensive talks as vivid backgrounds.

Budapest got a special role in this process. It hosted a seminar in 1996 and published its papers (Writers, Books and Reading after Five Years of Market Economy) and in the year 2002, Budapest was the venue of the 25th anniversary (Silver Jubilee) of the EWC and its meeting: Forum Europa III. Maureen was here personally and could meet representatives of the literary and book publishing scene. Now, the Public Lending Right (PLR) office has been set up, libraries collect the data, use of the money is devised in the budget: this is what should be called a real break-through and Maureen has her share in it.

I could see Maureen – and I feel fortunate and grateful - in different places in different situations, still constantly firm, clearcut, sensible and sensitive. Above all, good-humoured.

During this educational process (as I see this period of my life) it was deeply insightful to watch somebody with such a literary reputation act so straightforwardly and show forceful solidarity. She had the courage to use her prestige for the sake of common affairs.

It was and still is encouraging. I remember how surprised I was when she showed me the photos taken in the mid-seventies, when there were demonstrations in favour of Public Lending Right and in defence of other legal possibilities for authors in the UK: she and her writer-colleagues were marching in the streets with placards.

We say and believe that it is the work of art that really matters. But in Maureen’s case it is the personality and the activity too, speaking to us and validating whatever she does. She is a fully authentic artist, and this entitles her to raise her voice and make issues more accentuated. And the number of issues is growing, in spite of the work done.

In the past decade this sort of attitude among intellectuals has become rare in this part of the world. We are segmented and isolated, it’s hard to find common platforms. The freedom-fighter mentality should be brought back to mind.

I feel honoured to have been given the chance to get acquainted with Maureen and the beloved company of the EWC people her name evokes from the very important early years of the “post communist” era. I hold a photo in my hand and keep it for “straitened circumstances”. Maureen is standing in the circle of her international friends and proposing a toast, in a brightly lit banqueting hall, smiling. Let the moment stay and be as it used to be in the forthcoming celebration in December with her to be congratulated this time as I am doing now from quite a distance as one of her EWC students.

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Signatures and well wishes from friends and colleagues at the European Writers' Council.

Duffy and the European Writers' Congress

by Lore Schultz-Wild


That's How it Was, by Maureen Duffy published in Lucifer June 1955, held at the King's College London Archives, K/SER1/63.

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Maureen Duffy's notebooks, K/PP56, King's College London Archives.

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Maureen Duffy in the King's Archives, K/PP56, Box 1.

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