English PEN

Founded in 1921, English PEN is one of the world's first non-governmental organisations and amongst the first international bodies advocating for human rights.[1] English PEN was the founding centre of PEN International, a worldwide writers' association with 145 centres in more than 100 countries.[2] The current President of English PEN is Philippe Sands.[3] The Director is Daniel Gorman.[4]

English PEN celebrates the diversity of literature and envisions a world with free expression and equity of opportunity for all by supporting writers at risk and campaigning for freedom of expression nationally and internationally.[5] English PEN also hosts events and prizes to champion international literature, showcase the diversity of writing, and celebrate literary courage.[6] By supporting literature in translation into English and developing opportunities for publishers, translators and translated voices, English PEN aims to encourage diversity in the literary landscape.[7]


English PEN was founded in London by novelist Catherine Amy Dawson Scott in 1921, with John Galsworthy as President, and May Sinclair, Radclyffe Hall, Vera Brittain, Bertrand Russell, E. M. Forster, W. B. Yeats, Joseph Conrad and H.G. Wells as founding members.[8]

The acronym behind the P.E.N. Club, as it was then known, stood for: Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and Novelists. Dawson Scott envisioned a club which would connect writers worldwide to create a common meeting ground in every country for all writers.[2]

Dawson Scott's hopes of establishing an international network of writers were swiftly realised. Within three years, there were 19 PEN clubs around the world. The first meeting of what would become the annual PEN Congress was held in London in May 1923, and was attended by representatives from 11 countries.[9] With an ever-growing number of members worldwide, it became necessary to establish some guiding principles for the organisation, and the first version of the PEN Charter was passed at the 1927 Congress in Brussels.[2]

In 1940, English PEN published its 'Appeal to the Conscience of the World' letter, a plea for the protection of freedom of expression written by English PEN's first woman president, Storm Jameson, and co-signed by English writers including Vita Sackville-West, E.M. Forster, H.G. Wells, Vera Brittain, and Rebecca West.[10]

Following the World War Two, English PEN played a significant role in the emerging discourse around human rights, and was the first organisation to frame freedom of expression as a necessary precondition to literary creation.[11] PEN International gained advisory status to the United Nations and worked with UNESCO on various initiatives. It continued to expand with new centres opening across the world, and continued to fight for the rights of imprisoned writers, writers in exile, and censored writers. [8]

English PEN celebrates its centenary in 2021. 'Common Currency' – the title of these Centenary events – is a title taken from the PEN Charter.[12] The centenary programme includes events, residencies and workshops online and across the UK, culminating with a three-day festival of free thinking at the Southbank Centre in September 2021.[13]

The PEN CharterEdit

The PEN Charter has guided PEN members for over 60 years, since it was approved at the 1948 PEN Congress in Copenhagen.[14] Like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the PEN Charter was forged amidst the harsh realities of World War Two.[15]

The Charter was amended at the 83rd PEN Congress in Lviv in 2017 for the first time since it was adopted 90 years earlier. The Assembly voted for a wider formulation, namely counteracting hate and not only based on race, class or nationality but also gender, religion and other categories of identity. Consequently, Article 3 of the Charter reads as follows: 'PEN members should at all times use their impact for mutual understanding and respect between nations; they commit to do everything to dispel all types of hate and support the ideal of unified humanity living in peace.'[16]


English PEN is a membership organisation, with a community of more than 1,000 members including novelists, journalists, nonfiction writers, editors, poets, essayists, playwrights, publishers, translators, agents, human rights activists, and readers.[17]

English PEN membership is open to all who subscribe to the aims outlined in the PEN Charter.[18]

Board of TrusteesEdit

English PEN is governed by a board of trustees which is elected from and by members, and chaired by author, journalist, translator and academic Maureen Freely.[19]

Current trustees include:

  • Claire Armitstead, journalist and author
  • Philip Gwyn Jones, publisher
  • Daniel Hahn OBE, writer, editor and translator
  • Dan Miller, communications professional
  • Shazea Quraishi, poet, playwright and translator
  • Samantha Schnee, translator and editor
  • Cathy Galvin, poet, journalist and editor
  • Ruth Borthwick, former Chief Executive of Arvon Foundation
  • Georgina Godwin, broadcast journalist
  • Francis Coles, corporate finance adviser
  • Ted Hodgkinson, Head of Literature and Spoken Word at Southbank Centre
  • Milena Büyüm, Senior Campaigner at Amnesty International
  • Guy Gunaratne, journalist, filmmaker and novelist[17]

Past Presidents of English PENEdit

English PEN Centre presidents
John Galsworthy 1921–32
H.G. Wells 1932–36
J.B. Priestley 1937
Henry W. Nevinson 1938
Margaret Storm Jameson 1939–44
Desmond MacCarthy 1945–50
Veronica Wedgwood 1951–57
Richard Church 1958
Alan Pryce-Jones 1959–61
Rosamond Lehmann 1962–66
L. P. Hartley 1967–70
V.S. Pritchett 1971–75
Kathleen Nott 1975
Stephen Spender 1976–77
Lettice Cooper 1977–78
Francis King 1979–85
Michael Holroyd 1986–87
Antonia Fraser 1988–90
Ronald Harwood 1990–93
Josephine Pullein-Thompson 1994–97
Rachel Billington 1998–2000
Victoria Glendinning 2001–03
Alastair Niven 2003–07
Lisa Appignanesi 2008–10
Gillian Slovo 2010–13
Raficq Abdulla (acting president) 2013–14
Maureen Freely 2014–2018
Philippe Sands 2018–


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

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. The memorial was unveiled on 13 December 2011.[20]


English PEN runs three annual awards – the PEN Pinter Prize, the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize, and the PEN/Ackerley Prize. Funded by and in honour of former PEN members and significant literary figures, these prizes recognise excellence in historical nonfiction, literary autobiography, and a courageous and unflinching approach to the written word.[6]

PEN Pinter PrizeEdit

Established in 2009 in memory of Nobel Laureate playwright Harold Pinter, the PEN Pinter Prize is awarded annually to a writer from Britain, the Republic of Ireland, or the Commonwealth who, in the words of Harold Pinter's Nobel speech, casts an 'unflinching, unswerving' gaze upon the world, and shows a 'fierce intellectual determination … to define the real truth of our lives and our societies'.[21]

The prize is shared with an international writer of courage selected by the winner in association with English PEN's Writers at Risk programme.[22]

Past winners include Linton Kwesi Johnson (2020)[23],Lemn Sissay (2019),[24] Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2018),[25] Michael Longley (2017),[26] Margaret Atwood (2016),[27] James Fenton (2015),[28] Sir Salman Rushdie (2014),[29] Tom Stoppard (2013),[30] Carol Ann Duffy (2012),[31] Sir David Hare (2011),[32] Hanif Kureishi (2010),[33] and Tony Harrison (2009)[34]

Past International Writers of Courage include Amanuel Asrat (2020),[35] Befeqadu Hailu (2019),[36] Waleed Abulkhair (2018),[37] Mahvash Sabet (2017),[38] Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury (Tutul) (2016),[39] Raif Badawi (2015),[40] Mazen Darwish (2014),[41] Iryna Khalip (2013),[42] Samar Yazbek (2012),[43] Roberto Saviano (2011),[44] Lydia Cacho (2010),[45] and Zarganar - Maung Thura (2009).[46]

PEN Hessell-Tiltman PrizeEdit

The PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize of £2,000 is awarded annually for a non-fiction book of specifically historical content.[47]

Past winners include Anita Anand's The Patient Assassin (2020),[48] Edward Wilson-Lee's The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books (2019),[49] S. A. Smith's Russia in Revolution (2018),[50] David Olusoga's Black and British (2017),[51] Nicholas Stargardt's The German War (2016),[52] Jessie Child's God's Traitors (2015),[53] David Reynolds' The Long Shadow (2014),[54] Keith Lowe's Savage Continent (2013),[55] James Gleick's The Information (2012),[56] Toby Wilkinson's The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt (2011),[57] Diarmaid MacCulloch's A History of Christianity (2010),[58] Mark Thompson's The White War (2009),[59] Clair Wills' That Neutral Island (2008),[60] Vic Gatrell's City of Laughter (2007),[61] Bryan Ward Perkins' The Fall of Rome (2006),[62] Paul Fussell's The Boys' Crusade (2005), Richard Overy's The Dictators (2005),[63] Tom Holland's Rubicon (2004),[64] Jenny Uglow's The Lunar Men (2003),[65] and Margaret Macmillan's Peacemakers (2002).[66]

PEN/Ackerley PrizeEdit

The PEN/Ackerley Prize is awarded in J. R. Ackerley's memory for a literary autobiography of excellence. The prize is judged by the trustees of the J. R. Ackerley Trust.[67]

Past winners include Alison Light's A Radical Romance (2020),[68] Yrsa Daley-Ward's The Terrible (2019),[69] Richard Beard's The Day That Went Missing (2018),[70] Amy Liptrot's The Outrun (2017),[71] Alice Jolly's Dead Babies and Seaside Towns (2016),[72] Henry Marsh's Do No Harm (2015),[73] Sonali Deraniyagala's The Wave (2014),[74] Richard Holloway's Leaving Alexandria (2013),[75] Duncan Fallowell's How To Disappear (2012),[76] Michael Frayn's My Father's Fortune (2011),[77] Gabriel Weston's Direct Red (2010),[78] Julia Blackburn's The Three of Us (2009),[79] Miranda Seymour's In My Father's House (2008),[80] Brian Thompson's Keeping Mum (2007),[81] Alan Bennett's Untold Stories (2006), Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy's Half an Arch (2005),[82] Bryan Magee's Clouds of Glory (2004), Jenny Diski's Stranger on a Train (2003), Michael Foss' Out of India (2002), Lorna Sage's Bad Blood (2001), Mark Frankland's Child Of My Time (2000), Margaret Forster's Precious Lives (1999), Katrin Fitzherbet's True To Both My Selves (1998), Tim Lott's The Scent of Dried Roses (1997), Eric Lomax's The Railway Man (1996), Paul Vaughan's Something in Linoleum (1995), Blake Morrison's And When Did You Last See Your Father? (1994), Barry Humphries' More Please (1993), John Osborne's Almost a Gentleman (1992), Paul Binding's St Martin's Ride (1991), Germaine Greer's Daddy, We Hardly Knew You (1990), John Healy's The Grass Arena (1989), Anthony Burgess' Little Wilson and Big God (1988), Diana Athill After a Funeral (1987), Dan Jacobson's Time and Time Again (1986), Angelica Garnett's Deceived with Kindness (1985), Richard Cobb's Still Life (1984), Kathleen Dayus' Her People (1982), Ted Walker's High Path (1983), and Edward Blishen's Shaky Relations (1982).[67]

Writers at RiskEdit

Founded in 1960, English PEN's Writers at Risk Programme (formerly the Writers in Prison Committee) is one of the world's longest running campaigns for freedom of expression.[83] English PEN campaigns on behalf of writers, literary professionals, journalists, artists, cartoonists and musicians who are unjustly persecuted, harassed, imprisoned, and even murdered in violation of their right to freedom of expression.[84]

Residency programmeEdit

English PEN's Writers in Residence programme aims to provide international writers facing persecution or censorship with a period of respite.[85] Former residents include Zehra Doğan[86] and Nurcan Baysal.[87]

Freedom of expression in the UKEdit

Libel ReformEdit

In 2009, English PEN and Index on Censorship ran a year-long Libel Inquiry. The phenomenon of libel tourism was chilling the work of investigative journalists around the world, and scientific debate was being stifled.[88] The final report of the Inquiry, Free Speech Is Not For Sale, identified the central problems with the current libel system, and offered ideas for reform.[89] This led to the launch of the Libel Reform Campaign with Sense About Science.[90] The campaign secured the support of over 60,000 people and 60 prominent NGOs, Royal Colleges, and associations.[91] A Defamation Bill was introduced by the coalition government in 2012[92] and the Defamation Act was given Royal Assent on 25 April 2013.[93]

Lady Chatterley's LoverEdit

In 2018, English PEN ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to keep the judge's trial copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover used in the 1960s landmark obscenity trial in the UK.[94] It was finally acquired by the University of Bristol in 2019.[95]


PEN TranslatesEdit

The PEN Translates grant programme was launched in 2012 to encourage UK publishers to acquire more books from other languages. The award is supported by Arts Council England to help UK publishers to meet the costs of translating new works into English – while ensuring that translators are acknowledged and paid properly for their work.[96] The programme has supported more than 250 books, in 53 languages, and awarded over £1,000,000 of funding.[97] Titles supported by PEN Translates have featured on the last three International Booker Prize shortlists.[98]

PEN TransmissionsEdit

PEN Transmissions is English PEN's online magazine for international and translated voices.[99] It features interviews with and personal essays from established and emerging writers. Contributors include Svetlana Alexievich, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Priyamvada Gopal, Olga Tokarczuk, Irenosen Okojie,[100] and Edmund de Waal.[101]


English PEN's outreach programme, Readers & Writers, is for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, refugees and asylum seekers, and prisoners and young offenders.[102] It offers vulnerable, often marginalised and unheard people the opportunity to express their voices by taking part in imaginative and transformative creative writing and reading projects. They also have the chance to explore world literature and free speech.[103]

Brave New VoicesEdit

Thanks to funding from John Lyon's Charity and the Limbourne Trust, English PEN ran Brave New Voices 2.0, a three-year creative writing and translation project with young refugees and asylum seekers celebrating multilingualism and self-expression.[104]

In 2018, English PEN collaborated with the BBC Proms for the Brave New Voices programme, featuring more than 90 concerts over eight-weeks during the Proms.[105]

Response to the Coronavirus pandemicEdit

In March 2020, English PEN with the T. S. Eliot Foundation was amongst the founding partners of the 'Authors' Emergency Fund' led by the Society of Authors, along with the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society, the Royal Literary Fund, and Amazon UK.[106] The fund was set up to support authors and booksellers affected financially as a result of the coronavirus outbreak with a £330,000 emergency fund to be distributed as small grants.[107]


Anthony Julius and Geraldine ProudlerEdit

In May 2018 Private Eye identified two lawyers who are members of English PEN's Board of Trustees but who, in the normal course of providing legal services to their clients, were accused of being in conflict with English PEN's primary aim to defend and promote freedom of expression.[108] The accusation is that these two lawyers should have refused to provide legal services to their clients.

Anthony Julius is Deputy Chairman of Mishcon de Reya, a British law firm. The Maltese blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia was accused of libel by Mishcon de Reya "on the instruction of both Malta's prime minister and Henley & Partners", prior to her death in 2017. English PEN's public statement on 1 May 2018 about Caruana Galizia says:[109]

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is also pursuing a libel case against Caruana Galizia's son Matthew Caruana Galizia. The Shift News, an independent media outlet launched after Caruana Galizia's assassination which has pursued a number of her stories, is currently facing the threat of a financially crippling SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) from the Jersey-based firm Henley & Partners, who had taken legal proceedings against Daphne Caruana Galizia prior to her death.

PEN is seriously concerned about the fact that senior government officials including Prime Minister Joseph Muscat are insisting on trying 34 libel cases against Daphne Caruana Galizia, which have now been assumed by her family. PEN believes that these proceedings are in direct reprisal for her work in investigating corruption within the current Maltese government.

Geraldine Proudler is a lawyer and partner at Olswang, a London-based law firm, where she is Head of the Reputation and Media Litigation practice.[110] Proudler represented Pavel Karpov, a former Russian Interior Ministry officer, for a 2012 libel action in London against Bill Browder after Browder accused Karpov of involvement in the 2009 death of Sergei Magnitsky. Karpov lost the case and was ordered to pay over £800,000 in costs. In 2016 Karpov was additionally sentenced to three months in prison for contempt of court for non-payment of costs. Over £660,000 of that amount remains unpaid.[111]

In The Guardian, journalist Nick Cohen wrote:[112]

I know Anthony Julius vaguely and Geraldine Proudler, one of the Olswang lawyers who went for Browder, was on the board of the Scott Trust that oversees the Guardian and Observer. (She is now on the board of an English PEN that never seems to learn.) I'm sure that in private they love investigative journalism, freedom of thought and expression, democracy and the right to hold the powerful to account. Perhaps the firms to which they belong love money more.

Online harassmentEdit

On 5 October 2020, English PEN released a joint statement on online harassment (co-signed by 19 PEN centres, including PEN America, and PEN International) stating: 'PEN stands firmly against both offline and online harassment' and 'We support the right to hold and express strong views, provided that such expression does not undermine the internationally recognised human rights of others, incite hatred, nor engender the threat or use of violence.'[113] PEN also stated that 'We are listening to and taking seriously those with experience of harassment and working with organisations to better support and protect individuals facing harassment. Additionally we will continue to put pressure on platforms to better protect and support users facing harassment.'[113]

In the 9-22 October 2020 edition, Private Eye criticised English PEN for not speaking out in defence of J. K. Rowling, after she faced online harassment following her comments about transgender people:[114][115][116]

Thousands of Twitter users wish an author dead. Others send her rape-threats. Newsweek reports that burnings of her books are being shared on TikTok ... In 2013, Rowling gave English PEN, which defends freedom of speech, a Harry Potter first edition that was auctioned for £150,000. Last week, the Eye asked PEN repeatedly whether it defended her against the campaign of intimidation. All PEN would say was that it was "following the situation closely".


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External linksEdit