PEN International

(Redirected from International PEN)

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 centres in more than 100 countries.

PEN International
Formation1921; 103 years ago (1921)
PurposePromote literature and defend freedom of expression worldwide.
Region served
Burhan Sönmez
Catherine Amy Dawson Scott, co-founder of PEN International

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.



The first PEN Club was founded at the Florence Restaurant in London on October 5, 1921,[3] 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" and includes writers of any form of literature, such as journalists and historians.[4]

The club established these 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.

The president of PEN International is Burhan Sönmez. Past presidents since Galsworthy have included E. M. Forster, Alberto Moravia, Heinrich Böll, Arthur Miller, Mario Vargas Llosa, Homero Aridjis, Jiří Gruša, John Ralston Saul and Jennifer Clement.

Structure and status


PEN International has its headquarters in London and is composed of autonomous PEN Centres in more than 100 countries around the world, each of which is open to writers, journalists, translators, historians and others actively engaged in any branch of literature.

It is a non-governmental organization in formal consultative relations with UNESCO[5] and Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.[6]



PEN summarises its Charter, based on resolutions passed at its International Congresses:[7]

PEN affirms that:

  • 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, 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 between nations and people; they pledge themselves to do their utmost to dispel all hatreds and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace and equality in one 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 towards a more highly organised 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[8] works on behalf of persecuted writers worldwide. Established in 1960[9] 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[10] 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.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13] 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.[13]

On 15 January 2016, PEN International joined human rights organisations Freemuse [de] 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.[14]

Salil Tripathi is the Chair of this committee.

PEN affiliated awards


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


Memorial grove, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
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.[15]

Notable members



PEN International presidents[18]
John Galsworthy 1921–1932
H. G. Wells 1932–1935
Jules Romains 1936–1939
Wartime Presidential Committee: 1941–1947
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–November 1989
Per Wästberg (Interim) November 1989 – May 1990
György Konrád 1990–1993
Ronald Harwood 1993–1997
Homero Aridjis 1997–2003
Jiri Grusa 2003–2009
John Ralston Saul 2009–2015
Jennifer Clement 2015–2021
Burhan Sönmez 2021–

See also



  1. ^ "Our History". PEN International. 10 November 1995. Retrieved 10 July 2013.
  2. ^ Robert Halsband (10 January 1968). "LeRoi Jones Sentence – Free Preview". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 November 2011.
  3. ^ "The First International Club of Writers", by C. A. Dawson Scott, in The Literary Digest International Book Review (November, 1923) p. 47
  4. ^ "Our History PEN International". Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  5. ^ "Relations with non-governmental organizations, foundations and similar institutions". 2002. Retrieved 20 March 2023.
  6. ^ "NGO Committee Recommends Upgrading of Consultative Status for Four Organizations". United Nations. 24 January 2002. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  7. ^ "The PEN Charter". PEN International. Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  8. ^ "PEN International – Writers in Prison Committee". Archived from the original on 9 February 2014. Retrieved 10 July 2013.
  9. ^ Action, Fife Voluntary. "Fife Voluntary Action". Archived from the original on 18 June 2007. Retrieved 18 October 2021.
  10. ^ "PEN International – Case List". Archived from the original on 25 June 2013. Retrieved 10 July 2013.
  11. ^ "PEN International – Campaigns". 10 December 2012. Archived from the original on 31 July 2013. Retrieved 10 July 2013.
  12. ^ "Our Network". IFEX. Retrieved 10 July 2013.
  13. ^ a b "Tunisia". IFEX. 31 May 2010. Retrieved 10 July 2013.
  14. ^ "Iran: Drop Charges Against Filmmaker and Musicians PEN International". Archived from the original on 25 April 2016. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  15. ^ "The British Library unveils new Antony Gormley sculpture to commemorate English PEN's 90th anniversary". 13 December 2011. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
  16. ^ "Margaret Atwood at Western". 19 January 2011. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 15 November 2011.
  17. ^ "JK Rowling writes prequel for PEN". BBC News. 11 June 2008. Retrieved 10 July 2013.
  18. ^ PEN Presidents and Vice Presidents, PEN International.