PEN International

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For the "Postsecondary Education Network International", see PEN-International.
PEN International
PEN International logo.jpg
Motto Poets, Essayists and Novelists
Formation 1921 (1921)
Type NGO
Purpose to promote friendship & intellectual co-operation among writers everywhere
Headquarters London
Region served International
President John Ralston Saul

PEN International (known as International PEN until 2010)[1] is a worldwide association of writers, founded in London in 1921[2] to promote friendship and intellectual co-operation among writers everywhere. The association has autonomous International PEN centers in over 100 countries.

Other goals included: to emphasise the role of literature in the development of mutual understanding and world culture; to fight for freedom of expression; and to act as a powerful voice on behalf of writers harassed, imprisoned and sometimes killed for their views.

PEN originally stood for "Poets, Essayists and Novelists",[3] but now includes writers of any form of literature, such as journalists and historians.

It is the world's oldest human rights organization[4] and the oldest international literary organization.[citation needed]

Role of PEN[edit]

PEN is a non-governmental organization in formal consultative relations with UNESCO[citation needed] and Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.[citation needed]

The first PEN Club was founded in London in 1921 by Catherine Amy Dawson Scott, with John Galsworthy as its first President. Its first members included Joseph Conrad, Elizabeth Craig, George Bernard Shaw, and H.G. Wells.

The club established the following aims:

  1. To promote intellectual co-operation and understanding among writers;
  2. To create a world community of writers that would emphasize the central role of literature in the development of world culture; and,
  3. To defend literature against the many threats to its survival which the modern world poses.

Past presidents of PEN International have included Alberto Moravia, Heinrich Böll, Arthur Miller, Mario Vargas Llosa, Homero Aridjis and Jiří Gruša. The current President is John Ralston Saul.

PEN International is headquartered in London and composed of autonomous PEN Centres in over 100 countries around the world, each of which are open to qualified writers, journalists, translators, historians and others actively engaged in any branch of literature, regardless of nationality, race, colour, or religion

PEN affiliated awards[edit]

The various PEN affiliations offer many literary awards across a broad spectrum.

PEN Charter[edit]

Literature, national though it be in origin, knows no frontiers, and should remain common currency among nations in spite of political or international upheavals.

In all circumstances, and particularly in time of war, works of art and libraries, the heritage of humanity at large, should be left untouched by national or political passion.

Members of PEN should at all times use what influence they have in favor of good understanding and mutual respect among nations; they pledge themselves to do their utmost to dispel race, class, and national hatreds and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace in the world.

PEN stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and among all nations, and members pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in their country or their community.

PEN declares for a free press and opposes arbitrary censorship in time of peace. It believes that the necessary advance of the world toward a more highly organized political and economic order renders free criticism of governments, administrations, and institutions imperative. And since freedom implies voluntary restraint, members pledge themselves to oppose such evils of a free press as mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood, and distortion of facts for political and personal ends...

Writers in Prison Committee[edit]

PEN International Writers in Prison Committee[5] works on behalf of persecuted writers worldwide. Established in 1960[6] in response to increasing attempts to silence voices of dissent by imprisoning writers, the Writers in Prison Committee monitors the cases of as many as 900 writers annually who have been imprisoned, tortured, threatened, attacked, made to disappear, and killed for the peaceful practice of their profession. It publishes a bi-annual Case List[7] documenting free expression violations against writers around the world.

The Committee also coordinates the PEN International membership's campaigns that aim towards an end to these attacks and to the suppression of freedom of expression world wide.[8]

PEN International Writers in Prison Committee is a founding member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), a global network of 90 non-governmental organisations that monitors censorship worldwide and defends journalists, writers, internet users and others who are persecuted for exercising their right to freedom of expression.[9]

It is also a member of IFEX's Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of twenty-one free expression organisations that began lobbying the Tunisian government to improve its human rights record in 2005.[10] Since the Arab Spring events that led to the collapse of the Tunisian government, TMG has worked to ensure constitutional guarantees of free expression and human rights within the country.[11]


Antony Gormley's Witness, on the piazza of the British Library, London

A grove of trees beside Lake Burley Griffin forms the PEN International memorial in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory. The dedication reads, "The spirit dies in all of us who keep silent in the face of tyranny." Officially opened on 17 November 1997.

A cast-iron sculpture entitled Witness, commissioned by English PEN to mark their 90th anniversary and created by Antony Gormley, stands outside the British Library in London. It depicts an empty chair, and is inspired by the symbol used for thirty years by English PEN to represent imprisoned writers around the world. It was unveiled on 13 December 2011.[12]

PEN members[edit]

Presidents of PEN International[edit]

PEN International presidents
John Galsworthy 1921–1932
H.G. Wells 1932–1935
Jules Romains 1936–1939
Wartime Presidential Committee: Denis Saurat, François Mauriac, Thornton Wilder, Hu Shih 1941–1946
Maurice Maeterlinck 1947–1949
Benedetto Croce 1949–1953
Charles Langbridge Morgan 1954–1956
Andre Chamson 1957–1959
Alberto Moravia 1960–1962
Victor E. van Vriesland 1963–1965
Arthur Miller 1966–1969
Pierre Emmanuel 1970–1971
Heinrich Böll 1972–1973
V.S. Pritchett 1974–1976
Mario Vargas Llosa 1977–1979
Per Wästberg 1979–1986
Francis King 1986–1989
René Tavernier May – Nov 1989
Per Wästberg (Interim) Nov 1989 – May 90
György Konrád 1990–1993
Ronald Harwood 1993–1997
Homero Aridjis 1997–2003
Jiri Grusa 2003–2009
John Ralston Saul 2009 –

Presidents of the English PEN Centre[edit]

English PEN Centre presidents
John Galsworthy 1921–1932
H.G. Wells 1932–1936
J.B. Priestley 1937
Henry W. Nevinson 1938
Margaret Storm Jameson 1939–1944
Desmond MacCarthy 1945–1950
Veronica Wedgwood 1951–1957
Richard Church 1958
Alan Pryce-Jones 1959–1961
Rosamond Lehmann 1962–1966
L. P. Hartley 1967–1970
V.S. Pritchett 1971–1975
Kathleen Nott 1975
Stephen Spender 1976–1977
Lettice Cooper 1977–1978
Francis King 1979–1985
Michael Holroyd 1986–1987
Antonia Fraser 1988–1990
Ronald Harwood 1990–1993
Josephine Pullein-Thompson 1994–1997
Rachel Billington 1998–2000
Victoria Glendinning 2001–2003
Alastair Niven 2004–2007
Lisa Appignanesi 2008–2010
Gillian Slovo 2010–2013
Raficq Abdulla (acting president) 2013–2014
Maureen Freely 2014–

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Our History". PEN International. 10 November 1995. Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  2. ^ Robert Halsband (10 January 1968). "LeRoi Jones Sentence – Free Preview – The New York Times". Retrieved 2011-11-15. 
  3. ^ "Songs for Parents – About". Retrieved 2011-11-15. 
  4. ^ San Antonio Express-News – Factiva, from Dow Jones – 30 October 2005
  5. ^ "PEN International – Writers in Prison Committee". Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  6. ^ PEN condemns persecution of writers in Vietnam[dead link]
  7. ^ "PEN International – Case List". Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  8. ^ "PEN International – Campaigns". 10 December 2012. Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  9. ^ "members". IFEX. Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  10. ^ "Tunisia". IFEX. Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  11. ^ "Tunisia". IFEX. Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  12. ^ "The British Library unveils new Antony Gormley sculpture to commemorate English PEN's 90th anniversary". 13 December 2011. Retrieved 2012-03-31. 
  13. ^ "Margaret Atwood at Western". 19 January 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-15. 
  14. ^ "JK Rowling writes prequel for PEN". BBC News. 11 June 2008. Retrieved 2013-07-10. 


  • Mauthner, Martin (2007). German Writers in French Exile, 1933–1940 (1. publ. ed.). London: Valentine Mitchell. ISBN 978-0-85303-540-4. .

External links[edit]