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Human Rights Watch / Hellman-Hammett Grants

Human Rights Watch administers the Hellman/Hammett grant program for writers all around the world who have been victims of political persecution and are in financial need. The grants are financed by the estate of the playwright Lillian Hellman in funds set up in her name and that of her long-time companion, the novelist Dashiell Hammett. Hellman and Hammett were both interrogated in the 1950s about their political beliefs and affiliations; Hellman before the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and Hammett before the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee headed by Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, whose communist paranoia helped fuel nearly a decade of anti-communist "witch hunts." Hellman suffered professionally and had trouble getting work for a number of years. Hammett spent time in jail.

The grants are awarded annually after the nominations have been reviewed by a selection committee composed of authors, editors, and journalists who have a long-standing interest in free expression issues. Nominations should be sent to the New York office of Human Rights Watch. The nominator should try to provide:

1. Biographical information about the nominee;
2. A list of the nominee's published writing;
3. A statement about the political persecution suffered;
4. A statement of need.

Hellman/Hammett grants typically range from $1,000 to a maximum of $10,000. In addition to providing much needed financial assistance, the Hellman/Hammett grants focus attention on repression of free speech and censorship by publicizing the persecution that the grant recipients endured. In some cases the publicity is a protection against further abuse. In other cases, the writers request anonymity because of the dangerous circumstances in which they and their families are living.

Since the program began in 1990, more than 600 writers have received grants including several group grants to writers in Bosnia, Burma, Peru, and Sierra Leone. Even so, the recipients are a tiny portion of the many writers around the world whose books have been banned or who have been exiled, imprisoned, tortured, and harassed because of their work.

(Last updated on September 2, 2008)