Tuesday, September 14, 2010

International PEN Newsletter September 2010

International PEN Newsletter September 2010

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Dear Friends,

I'm just back from Korea and Japan. And before that I had two months visiting PEN Centres around the world. But a lot of time over the last six months has been spent with Eugene Schoulgin, Eric Lax and the Board dealing with long term PEN strategy, today's tight financial reality and the structure of the international office. There will be lots of time to talk about this in Tokyo. In fact, the first morning of the Congress Assembly will be devoted to an open discussion about PEN and its possible directions. I personally want to hear your thoughts. I know the Board does.

We have been working on an approach which responds to what I have been hearing from you - a tighter focus on the Centres and centre development, more focus on regional initiatives, and a greater commitment to the full range of our languages and cultures.

On the practical front, Sara Whyatt and Frank Geary have been asked to step in as interim co-Executive Directors and they have done this with energy and enthusiasm. The international office is now resolutely focused on an approach which is turned outwards, towards you.

And we are beginning the search for our new Executive Director, but have purposely taken our time. That position needs to be shaped by the direction we take as a whole. So the Assembly discussion in Tokyo will be very helpful.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I'm just back from Japan where I spent a few days with Takashi Atoda and Takeaki Hori, talking about the upcoming Congress. Japan PEN has put an enormous effort into making this a remarkable event. After that I spent five days in Korea with Gil Won-Lee and Korean PEN, doing public events and going to meetings to build support for their 2012 congress.

And before that I went on a long trip to visit Centres and raise the public profile of PEN's work. It ranged from large theatre events in Sydney and Melbourne to testifying with Sihem Bensedrine, President of Tunisian PEN, before the European Parliament on the freedom of expression crisis in Tunisia.

Lastly, we are initiating a new way of communicating with you - a Blog! This will allow us to talk to all PEN members. There may be some initial wrinkles but, within a few months we should have a new tool for PEN conversation around the world on PEN issues. To access the Blog visit http://blog.internationalpen.org.uk

See you in Tokyo,


John Ralston Saul, International President

Dear Friends,

It has been a very successful few months with many conversations and meetings with PEN Centres and members around the world. As John says, we have spent a lot of time listening to what you want PEN to be and where you want us to go. It is great that we'll have another chance to listen to you when we meet in Tokyo. I know that thanks to the generosity and hard work of Japan PEN, we have more Centres represented at the 2010 Congress then we have had in a long while. It is very important that we consider all of your many ideas and priorities to make sure that we have a strong and successful future.

Since I wrote to you in the last newsletter, I have been very busy working with the PEN Centre in Georgia, and the Ural-Altay network whom I met with at their conference by Lake Issyk-kul in Kyrgyzstan with many writers from PEN Centres in Central Asia. I had many interesting conversations about the work, and the great importance of the work, that Georgian PEN and the PEN Centre members of the Ural-Altay network are undertaking. It was really an honour for me to be learning so much about the many different issues that these Centres and networks are concerned with; by taking part where I can and by making sure I share their news and work with our PEN family, I believe that we can all grow our presence and strength across the world.

Lastly, I want to thank you all for giving me so much support over the last three years. This is my last newsletter as International Secretary, but I can guarantee that I am not really going anywhere and will be working with you and listening to your ideas as much as I ever did.

I'm excited about seeing many of you in Tokyo; and for those of you who cannot be with us I look forward to seeing you soon.


Eugene Schoulgin, International Secretary


We are in the final stages of preparing for what promises to be an exceptional Congress. Hosted by Japan PEN, our 76th Congress in Tokyo will see at least 80 PEN Centres participating in debates, events, forums and seminars all of which address the theme ‘The Environment and Literature - What can words do?' Japan PEN have programmed an impressive and exciting number of literature events with guest speakers including Margaret Atwood, Takashi Atoda (the President of Japan PEN), Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche and Gao Xingjian. We look forward to both reflecting on our work from the past year and talking about the future of PEN; and we also look forward to listening about the activities of every PEN Centre and the PEN networks across the globe.


From 23rd to the 26th July, Bishkek PEN hosted the 2nd Ural-Altay language PEN Centres Solidarity Network Conference in Bishkek and Tosor in Kyrgyzstan. This important regional meeting gathered PEN Centres and writers from across Central Asia to discuss the shared traditions of epic poetry, freedom of expression and the future of PEN in Central Asia.

The conference cemented and strengthened the work of the PEN Ural Altay network and the commitment of PEN Centres in this region to work together. In doing so, it built on the success of previous meetings of the network in Talleya in Hungary, hosted by Hungarian PEN, and the inaugural network meeting in Istanbul, hosted by Turkish PEN and Uyghur PEN. The Ural-Altay Language Solidarity Network takes as its starting point linguistic and cultural connections between an arc of countries ranging from Finland and Hungary, across all of Central Asia to Korea and Japan. It combines discussion and exploration of these cultural connections with developing collaborative activities and strengthening the work of PEN in Central Asia. Led by Centres in the region, the network has initiated discussions setting the shared goals aims and activities for PEN in the region. The International Programmes team of International PEN is committed to supporting the work and growth of this network. In recent years, the growth of regional programmes and networks has changed the way International PEN collaborates with PEN Centres. Supporting the work of PEN Centres is the heart of our work; we look forward to continuing our collaboration and strengthening of PEN regional networks and programmes in the coming years.


The celebrations of the Writers in Prison Committee's 50th Anniversary continues, with Centres staging events to commemorate the thousands of persecuted writers who PEN has supported during the past half century. Springing from this has come one of the most innovative ideas - the Empty Chair. Centres such a Sydney and Scottish PEN, have got artists to design a chair - some of them beautiful and functional, others just as beautiful but maybe not for sitting on! - that represents a seat that a writer would be able to sit in, to take part in, say, a PEN panel discussion, but who is unable to do so because they are in prison, or, even, have been killed. It is difficult to describe these wonderful items, so we advise that you have a look at our Facebook site http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Because-Writers-Speak-their-Minds/108856945799087 which not only has pictures of these items, but has also been keeping members abreast of news of the 50 emblematic cases - such as the acquittal of Turkish publisher Ragip Zarakolu - and just two weeks later, a new case, and the sad news of the death in a traffic accident of Cameroon journalist and rights campaigner, Pius Njawe. It has news of other PEN events and related activities.

You can also learn of our activities through our website and through WiPC Chair Marian Botsford Fraser's regular newsletters on http://www.internationalpen.org.ukhttp://www.internationalpen.org.uk/go/freedom-of-expression/campaigns/because-writers-speak-their-minds-50-years-of-defending-freedom-of-expression/because-writers-speak-their-minds


In May, members of Catalan and Kenyan PEN joined us at the UN in Geneva to observe the UN Council on Human Rights debate on the state of human rights in those countries, under a procedure known as the Universal Periodic Review. High level government officials from those countries, which were among 16 to be scrutinized, came to answer questions from other UN member states on how they have stuck by their commitments to the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights, or not, as the case may be. As well as Spain and Kenya, we also observed Turkey and Armenia, joined by representatives of free expression groups in those countries with whom the WiPC works closely. This was part of a project where the WiPC is assisting Centres in producing submissions to the UPR process, and working with them to monitor how governments meet the requests for improvements in the four years until they are once again required to report to the UN, and to ensure that free expression is high on that agenda. Catalan PEN followed their visit with a press conference that was widely covered in the media, and promises from lawyers and other groups to work with them.


In late April/ early May, WiPC Africa researcher Tamsin Mitchell joined the Tunisia Monitoring Group, made up of members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), in a mission to Tunisia to research and raise concerns about attacks on journalists and writers. The delegation met with independent journalists, lawyers, human rights and media organisations, and returned to report on the acute situation of free expression in the country. The report is available on http://ifex.org/tunisia/2010/06/18/ifextmgmissionreport_june2010.pdf

This was followed in June by a visit to Brussels by John Ralston Saul, International President of International PEN, who joined Sihem Bensedrine, Secretary General of Tunisian PEN and a leading media rights activist, to make a presentation to the European Parliament's Sub Committee on Human Rights and hold a press conference on the extremely difficult situation for writers and journalists.


International PEN is working with PEN Centres around the world to create an international network of Free the Word! literary events and festivals. Free the Word! celebrates the best in contemporary writing from around the world. Each Free the Word! festival is rooted in its local culture but is international in outlook.

The Free the Word! international network has been funded in part by the European Union's Culture programme (UK, Austria, Spain and Turkey), and in part by the Prince Claus Fund (Jamaica, Guadalajara, South Africa, Colombia, Morocco).

International PEN is planning a second bid to the EU Culture programme, to expand the network of Free the Word! festivals across Europe in 2011. If any PEN Centre in Europe is interested in participating, please send your expression of interest to Kate Griffin (kate.griffin@internationalpen.org.uk) by 14 September 2010.

Each PEN Centre would be responsible for fundraising for and running their Free the Word! events. As part of the EU-funded network, each PEN Centre would be able to attend Free the Word! network meetings, to exchange experiences with other partners, and to visit some of the other festivals.

Partnering PEN Centres should be available in September 2010 to contribute ideas and budgetary information to the EU bid, which will be collated by International PEN for the deadline of 1 October 2010. For further details, please contact Mitch Albert (mitchell.albert@internationalpen.org.uk)

We are also keen to expand the Free the Word! network internationally; any PEN Centres interested in participating are welcome to get in touch with their ideas.


Our 2010 issue of PEN International shares its theme with our Free the Word! festivals in Linz (October 2009) and London (April 2010), playing on Troilus's dismissal of his errant lover's letter in Shakespeare's tragedy Troilus and Cressida (Act V, Sc. III: ‘Words, words, mere words, no matter from the heart/The effect doth operate another way'). Free the Word! London gathered together many writers from all over the world and the magazine includes writing from a number of them: Sujata Bhatt, James Kelman, John Mateer, Pauline Melville, Donato Ndongo-Bidyogo, Amruta Patil, Nawal El Saadawi, Olive Senior and Michela Wrong. It also features a transcript of the festival's opening event; a discussion between Maya Jaggi, Margaret Busby, Kelman and Senior and about the re-shaping of English to express different cultural identities. Also in this issue: Walerian Domanski recalls a Stalinist fiction made Polish policy in Poland in the early 1950s; Patrice Nganang pronounces francophone literature ‘dead'; and Rafik Schami chronicles the history of Arabic script. And finally ... to mark 50 years of the Writers in Prison Committee, our magazine celebrates their 2010 campaign, ‘Because Writers Speak their Minds', with poems from 26:50, a creative collaboration between the WiPC and the writers' association 26. The issue is dedicated to the possibilities and limitations of language and to the men and women shut up for exploring them.


All Committees are preparing for their meetings in Tokyo as part of the 76th International PEN Congress. We look forward to sharing the discussions and debates that will take place in the final newsletter of 2010 due in December.


PEN American Center has launched PEN Reads, an online reading group that brings readers and writers together to discuss literature that connects to PEN's mission. The first post was written by award-winning novelist Colm Tóibín and appears at www.pen.org/penreads

Colombian PEN supported an event in August in the capital of San José del Guaviare that celebrated the reading circles they helped establish in the city. The project is aimed at encouraging reading in a number of neighbourhoods. The Centre worked with local families, children and youth to develop creative thinking around different texts and to encourage conversations about the world of books. The circles have so far involved about 100 children and young people. The evening was a great success, presenting an adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, created by the children themselves.

PEN Guinea's art troupe recently won the First Prize at the National Unity recital at the festival of arts and culture held in their country.

Independent Chinese PEN has just published the second edition of ‘PEN for Freedom', its quarterly journal of literary translations. It features poetry, essays and memoir pieces and short stories by LIU Xiaobo, SHI Tao, SUN Baoqiang and WANG Ju among others. The issue was edited in partnership with Sydney PEN. To read the text visit http://www.liuxiaobo.eu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=55%3Apen-for-freedom-no-2&catid=30%3Apen-for-freedom&Itemid=134&lang=en

Korean PEN would sadly like to inform the PEN community of the death of Ms. CHUN Sook-Hee, ex-president of Korean PEN and vice president of International PEN. She passed away due to old age at 91 at a hospital in Seoul, Korea on August 9th 2010. She served as President of Korean PEN from 1983 to 1991 devoting herself to the spirit of the PEN charter, and hosting the International PEN Congress in 1988 in Seoul, Korea. She was elected a Vice President of International PEN in 1991. PEN members wishing to offer condolences please send emails to admin@penkorea.or.kr so that Korean PEN can deliver them to the bereaved family.

PEN Mexico held awards in April for excellence in literature, journalism and publishing and was able to raise awareness of their work and PEN's worldwide work as a result. The winners were Ramón Xirau and Luis Miguel Aguilar for literary excellence, Marta Lamas and Ginger Thompson for journalist excellence and Taller Leñateros and Artes de Mexico for editorial excellence.

PEN Québécois can announce that the 28th International Poetry Festival (FIP) in Trois-Rivières, Québec, Canada, in October 2012 will highlight the work of PEN member poets. The chairman of the festival, Gaston Bellemare, a poet and member of PEN Québécois, hopes to invite poets from 24 different Centres. Submit your name with a brief bio-bibliographic note to gaston.bellemare@fiptr.com Non French speakers must provide in advance 30 poems translated into French. The invited poet(s) will be received in Montreal, the costs of their stay in Trois-Rivières and a per diem will be paid. The FIP is one of the oldest poetry festivals in the world; Trois-Rivières, the "poetry capital", is on the edge of Saint-Laurent between Montreal and Quebec; Quebec's autumn colours are extravagant.

San Miguel de Allende PEN announces that this year, as for the last four years, International PEN, thanks to San Miguel de Allende PEN and PEN Guadalajara, will have a stand in the enormous International Book Fair (the FIL) in Guadalajara, which will take place from November 27 to December 5. If a representative of your Centre is going to the PEN Congress in Tokyo, please bring books written by members of your Centre for their stand. They want to stock their shelves with books from everywhere, books which in many cases can't be found in any other stand at the Fair. You can give the books to Luis Mario Cerda from PEN Guadalajara or to Lucina Kathmann from San Miguel de Allende PEN. They are going to bring large bookbags to fill with literature from many countries. If you are not going to the Congress, we ask you to send your books to this address: International PEN c/o SOGEM, Av. Circunvalación Agustín, Yáñez •2839, Arcos Vallarta, Guadalajara, C.P. 44130 Jalisco, México

Serbian PEN would like to invite PEN members to the Regional Conference in Belgrade to take place from 4th to 7th November 2010. The theme of the Conference is ‘Memoirs - Fiction of Faction'. To receive a provisional programme and a registration form please email Ana Imsirovic Djordjevic at Serbian PEN: pencentar@ptt.rs

Slovakian PEN's Global PEN Library, set up to benefit students of foreign languages and literature, is now eight years old with over 2000 books from 53 countries. To celebrate, a ceremony was held at the University Library, Bratislava.

PEN Centre USA is now accepting submissions to its 2011 Literary Awards. A regional award that recognises outstanding work by writers living in the western United States, authors, journalists, playwrights and screen and television writers are eligible to enter. Award winners are granted PEN USA membership for one year, a cash prize of $1,000 and 2 tickets to the Literary Awards Festival in Los Angeles, where winners are honored. For more details see http://www.penusa.org/2011-lit-awards

Uyghur PEN launched its first campaign for a writer in prison, the Free the Wild Pigeon campaign, for Nurmuhemmet Yasin, author of The Wild Pigeon. So far 24 PEN Centres worldwide have joined the campaign and activities have included public readings of The Wild Pigeon around the world and translating it into 50 languages.

The next newsletter will be available in December 2010.

PEN Centres: please send your news for inclusion to Emily Bromfield, emily.bromfield@internationalpen.org.uk

Originally founded in 1921 to promote literature, today International PEN has over 140 Centres in 100 countries across the globe. Our primary goal is to engage with, and empower, societies and communities across cultures and languages, through reading and writing. We believe that writers can play a crucial role in changing and developing civil society. We do this through the promotion of literature, international campaigning on issues such as translation and freedom of expression and improving access to literature at international, regional and national levels. Our membership is open to all published writers who subscribe to the PEN Charter regardless of nationality, language, race, colour or religion. International PEN is a non-political organisation and has special consultative status at UNESCO and the United Nations.

International PEN, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER
Email: info@internationalpen.org.uk
Website: www.internationalpen.org.uk
International PEN is a registered charity, number 1117088
To find out more visit www.internationalpen.org.uk

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