Thursday, March 25, 2010

Writers Speak their Minds: a celebration and a campaign

Because Writers Speak their Minds: a celebration and a campaign

Because Writers Speak their Minds logo

In 2010, the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN celebrates 50 years of defending freedom of expression around the world with a year-long campaign - Because Writers Speak their Minds.

Freedom of expression has been a linchpin of International PEN since its formation in 1921. Concerns for colleagues imprisoned, executed, tortured through times of war, peace, revolution, and détente took the form of speeches at congresses, resolutions, letters of support, telegrams to offending governments and an embrace of exiled writers. But in 1960 this tradition of solidarity and compassion became, formally, a Committee.

On July 24, 1960, at a Congress in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, General Secretary David Carver reported that a committee of three people had been empowered at a previous meeting to research and produce a list of imprisoned writers. The list circulated to delegates that day contained 56 names-seven writers imprisoned in Albania, 25 in Czechoslovakia, 13 in Hungary, two in France and nine in Romania.

Carver proposed that where there were PEN Centres, in countries 'where writers had been imprisoned because they spoke or wrote their minds', those centres should work to improve the situation and report to PEN. In countries where there were no centres, International PEN should act through a Writers in Prison Committee.

The Committee of three individuals is now a Committee of more than 70 PEN Centres worldwide. The annual case list often contains around 900 names of writers, editors, journalists, publishers and internet writers. Our central focus is the plight of persecuted individuals. We've always named names. And despite historical differences, our work is remarkably singleminded: Burning books and blocking blogs are one and the same.

The campaign: Over the year we'll look back at the work we've done, with 50 emblematic cases illustrating where and how and why we have worked. PEN centres around the world will participate and report on events, reflections on their own work and campaigns on current cases. We'll look to the future, to see how the WiPC must evolve and adapt to meet new challenges. Because writers must speak their minds.

If you'd like to find out about our partnership with the UK writers association 26, click here. 26 have randomly paired each of the 50th anniversary writers with a writer from 26. The brief? Write 50 words, no more, no less, inspired by the life and work of the 50th anniversary writer that they have been paired with. These 50 parcels of poetry, prose, meditation and agitation are being posted online, day by day, through to the last day of Free the Word! in London on 18 April. 26:50 started on Saturday 27 February with 1960: Musine Kokalari. The project will end with an unnamed writer for 2010. There's no chronological order to postings in between.

We urge people to check in for a moment of inspiration every day. Feel free to comment on the blog as it unfolds. Spread the word ...

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