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PEN International
Motto Poets, Essayists and Novelists
Formation 1921; 99 years ago (1921)
Type NGO
Purpose/focus Promote literature and defend freedom of expression worldwide.
Headquarters London
Region served International
President Jennifer Clement

International PEN is a worldwide association of writers. It was founded in London in 1921 Now the group includes any other kinds of writers, such as journalists and historians. Other goals included: to make the role of literature stronger in developing international understanding and world culture; to fight for freedom of expression; and to act as a powerful voice to help writers who are harassed, imprisoned, and sometimes killed for their views. It is the world’s oldest human rights organization.

Role of PEN

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

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

The club established these goals:

  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 International PEN have included Malcolm Afford, Alberto Moravia, Heinrich Böll, Arthur Miller, Mario Vargas Llosa, Homero Aridjis and Jiří Gruša. The current President is John Ralston Saul and the current Executive Director is Caroline McCormick.

International PEN has its headquarters in London. There are also 145 independent PEN Centers in 104 countries around the world. Each of these centers are open to qualified writers, journalists, translators, historians and others actively engaged in any branch of literature. Nationality, race, color or religion cannot effect membership.

PEN Affiliated Awards

PEN awards dozens of literary awards each year. Some examples include:

  • The PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
  • The PEN/Malamud Award, for excellence in the art of Short Fiction
  • The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories (a yearly anthology, not an award)

PEN Charter

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

International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee works to help persecuted writers worldwide. The Writers in Prison Committee monitors the cases of over 900 writers 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 documenting free expression violations against writers around the world. This committee was started in 1960 in response to increasing attempts to silence voices of dissent by imprisoning writers,

Notable Members of International PEN

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