PEN International



PEN International promotes literature and freedom of expression and is governed by the PEN Charter and the principles it embodies: unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations. The organisation known today as PEN International began in London, UK, in 1921, as simply PEN: Poets, Essayists and Novelists (later broadened to ‘Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, Novelists’). Catharine Amy Dawson-Scott, a British poet, playwright and peace activist, founded PEN as a way to unite writers after the devastation of World War One. It was, at first, nothing more than a dinner club, providing a space for writers to share ideas and socialise. Within four years there were 25 PEN Centres in Europe, and by 1931 there were several Centres in South America as well as China.

As the world grew darker just before the outbreak of war in 1939, PEN member Centres included Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, India, Iraq, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Palestine, Uruguay, the US and others. All the Scandinavian countries were accounted for in the membership, as well as several countries in Eastern Europe. Basque, Catalan and Yiddish Centres were represented, too. Today PEN International connects an international community of writers from its Secretariat in London, spanning over 100 countries, with 149 PEN Centres worldwide.  In the 90 years since its inception PEN’s members have included writers such as Chinua Achebe, Margaret Atwood, Aung San Suu Kyi, J.M Coetzee, Joseph Conrad, Nadine Gordimer, Neil Gaiman, Vaclav Havel, Liu Xiaobo, Mario Vargas Llosa, Amin Malouf, Arthur Miller, Toni Morrison, Harold Pinter, Salman Rushdie, Orhan Pamuk and many more.


PEN was one of the world’s first non-governmental organisations and amongst the first international bodies advocating for human rights. Certainly, we were the first worldwide association of writers, and the first organisation to point out that freedom of expression and literature are inseparable – a principle we continue to champion today and which is expressed in our Charter, a signature document 22 years in the making from its origins in 1926 and ratification at the 1948 Congress in Copenhagen.  In 1949, following the passage of a resolution introduced by the PEN American Centre, PEN acquired consultative status at the United Nations as ‘representative of the writers of the world’. Our campaigns, events and programmes connect writers and readers, strengthen freedom of expression, defend linguistic rights and promote quality education at the national, regional and international level across the globe. PEN has been documenting and campaigning against human rights violations of writers since the 1960s when its Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) was established. The vast majority of our global network of Centres have their own Writers in Prison Committees, formed of members committed to supporting persecuted writers in their own countries.

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