PEN International

This article is about the writers' association. For the hearing impairment group, see PEN-International.
PEN International
Motto Poets, Essayists and Novelists
Formation 1921 (1921)
Type NGO
Purpose Promote literature and defend freedom of expression worldwide.
Headquarters London
Region served
Jennifer Clement
Catherine Amy Dawson Scott, co-founder of PEN International

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.

It is the world's oldest human rights organization[3] and the oldest international literary organization.


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.

PEN originally stood for "Poets, Essayists, Novelists," but now stands for "Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, Novelists,"[4] and includes writers of any form of literature, such as journalists and historians.

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, Jiří Gruša and John Ralston Saul. The current President is Jennifer Clement.

Structure and status

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 writers, journalists, translators, historians and others actively engaged in any branch of literature, regardless of nationality, race, colour, or religion.

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

PEN Charter

The PEN Charter is based on resolutions passed at its International Congresses and may be summarised as follows:[5]

Literature, knows no frontiers and must remain common currency among people in spite of political or international upheavals.

In all circumstances, and particularly in time of war, works of art and libraries, the patrimony 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 favour 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 between all nations, and members pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community to which they belong, as well as throughout the world wherever this is possible.

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 a 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

PEN International Writers in Prison Committee[6] works on behalf of persecuted writers worldwide. Established in 1960[7] 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[8] 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 worldwide.[9]

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.[10]

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.[11] 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]

On 15 January 2016, PEN International joined human rights organisations Freemuse and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, along with seven other organisations, to protest against the 2013 imprisonment and 2015 sentencing of musicians Mehdi Rajabian and Yousef Emadi, and filmmaker Hossein Rajabian, and called on the head of the judiciary and other Iranian authorities to drop the charges against them.[12]

PEN affiliated awards

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


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." The memorial was 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 30 years by English PEN to represent imprisoned writers around the world. It was unveiled on 13 December 2011.[13]

PEN members

Presidents of PEN International

PEN International presidents
John Galsworthy 1921–32
H.G. Wells 1932–35
Jules Romains 1936–39
Wartime Presidential Committee: Denis Saurat, François Mauriac, Thornton Wilder, Hu Shih 1941–46
Maurice Maeterlinck 1947–49
Benedetto Croce 1949–53
Charles Langbridge Morgan 1954–56
Andre Chamson 1957–59
Alberto Moravia 1960–62
Victor E. van Vriesland 1963–65
Arthur Miller 1966–69
Pierre Emmanuel 1970–71
Heinrich Böll 1972–73
V. S. Pritchett 1974–76
Mario Vargas Llosa 1977–79
Per Wästberg 1979–86
Francis King 1986–89
René Tavernier May–Nov 1989
Per Wästberg (Interim) Nov 1989–May 90
György Konrád 1990–93
Ronald Harwood 1993–97
Homero Aridjis 1997–2003
Jiri Grusa 2003–09
John Ralston Saul 2009–15
Jennifer Clement 2015–

See also


  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. San Antonio Express-News – Factiva, from Dow Jones – 30 October 2005
  4. "Our History PEN International". Retrieved 2016-02-09.
  5. "PEN International CHARTER"
  6. "PEN International – Writers in Prison Committee". Retrieved 2013-07-10.
  7. PEN condemns persecution of writers in Vietnam Archived 18 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. "PEN International – Case List". Retrieved 2013-07-10.
  9. "PEN International – Campaigns". 10 December 2012. Retrieved 2013-07-10.
  10. "Our Network". IFEX. Retrieved 2013-07-10.
  11. 1 2 "Tunisia". IFEX. Retrieved 2013-07-10.
  12. "Iran: Drop Charges Against Filmmaker and Musicians PEN International". Retrieved 2016-04-14.
  13. "The British Library unveils new Antony Gormley sculpture to commemorate English PEN's 90th anniversary". 13 December 2011. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
  14. "Margaret Atwood at Western". 19 January 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-15.
  15. "JK Rowling writes prequel for PEN". BBC News. 11 June 2008. Retrieved 2013-07-10.


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