|Native name||אלכסנדר פן
Penn was born in Nizhnekolymsk, Russia. As a youth, he was a boxer. He moved to Moscow in 1920, to study cinema, and published his first poems in Russian that year. In 1927, he immigrated to Mandate Palestine. He worked as a boxing trainer in Tel Aviv, as well as a farm hand, a construction worker and a guard.
Penn began writing poetry in Hebrew, which he learned only after settling in Palestine. He published these poems in the daily Hebrew newspaper Davar and a variety of literary magazines. Penn was a devout Marxist, and a member of the Israeli Communist Party. He edited the literary section of the party's paper Kol Ha'am.
Among many other works, Penn composed the poem "Vidui" (My Confession), a turbulent piece about love and death. The poem was set to music in the early 1970s and has been recorded since then by numerous Israeli singers and musicians, including Michal Tal who was the first to make a recording of it, Yehudit Ravitz, Gila Almagor, and most recently Marina Maximilian Blumin.
Dalia Karpel wrote in a review published in the newspaper Haaretz, of Penn's life and work:
But most of his fame seemed to derive from his Bohemian lifestyle. He contracted diabetes before the age of 30, but did not stop smoking and drinking large quantities of alcohol, and saw himself as someone who can overcome the weaknesses of the body in defiance of medical science. His romance with communism, on the other hand, led to his ostracism.In 1989, Prof. Halperin published a first biography of Penn, "Shalekhet Kokhavim" (Shedding of the Stars: Alexander Penn. His Life and Work Until 1940, Hebrew). In the new biography she presents updated facts about his life. He was born Avraham Pepliker-Stern in 1905 - that is what is written on his card in the Political Red Cross archive, says Halperin. His father, Yosef Stern, ran a heder (a Hebrew school for young children) for a while, and afterward was a Hebrew teacher and wrote poems as well. He changed his family name to Pepliker in order to avoid military service. Penn shorted the name and took the "peh" from Pepliker and the final "nun" from Stern.