PEN International Logo

History of International P.E.N.

Text derived from http://www.oneworld.org/internatpen

International P.E.N. was founded in London in 1921 by Mrs. C.A.Dawson Scott.Its first president was John Galsworthy. The only worldwide association of writers, its aims are to:

  1. Promote intellectual co-operation and understanding among writers.
  2. Create a world community of writers that would emphasize the central role of literature in the development of world culture.
  3. Defend literature against the many threats to its survival which the modern world poses.

And because international cultural co-operation in the field of literature and the development of understanding cannot exist without freedom of expression, P.E.N. acts as a powerful voice in opposing political censorship and speaking for writers harassed, imprisoned, sometimes murdered for the expression of their views. P.E.N. is strictly non-political, holding Category A status at UNESCO and consultative status within the UN roster category.

P.E.N. in its early years had Centres only in Europe, but writers of other nations joined P.E.N.enthusiatically and, in 1926, members from fifteen nations met in Berlin. Today P.E.N. is composed of 130 Centres in 91 countries. Its membership is open to all published writers regardless of nationality, language, race, colour or religion. Each Centre acts as an autonomous cultural and intellectual organization within its own country; individual Centres organize regional conferences and seminars; and all Centres maintain links with each other through P.E.N.'s headquarters.

Among early members were Joseph Conrad, George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells. Centres were soon started in Europe, with such writers as Anatole France, Paul Valery, Thomas Mann, Benedetto Croce and Karel Capek playing active parts in the life and work of P.E.N. Over the years members have included Nobel Prize winners and other eminent writers from all over the world; among P.E.N.'s Presidents have been Alberto Moravia, Heinrich Böll, Arthur Miller, Pierre Emmanuel, Mario Vargas Llosa and György Konrád.

P.E.N.'s highest Authority, the Assembly of Delegates, consisting of representatives from each Centre, meets at the annual P.E.N.Congress, where, in addition to the work of the Assembly, cultural events and literary forums are held, through which P.E.N. seeks to mobilize the intelligence and imagination of its members in support of its ideals.The international and diverse character of International P.E.N. is reflected in its Executive Committee, which consists of the President, the Treasurer and seven members elected from among P.E.N.'s worldwide membership.


'Le silence c'est la mort
Et toi si tu tais tu meurs
Et si tu parle tu meurs
Alors dis et meurs.'

'El silencio es muerte
Y tu si callas mueres
Y tu si hablas mueres
Entonces habla y muere.'

'Silence is death
If you are silent you are dead
And if you speak you are dead
So speak and die.'

TAHAR DJAOUT Algeria, assassinated May 1993

International P.E.N. the worldwide association of writers, exists to promote friendship and intellectual co-operation among writers everywhere, regardless of their political or other views; to fight for freedom of expression and to defend vigorously writers suffering from oppressive regimes. PEN is strictly non-political, a Non Governmental Organization with Category A status at UNESCO. It is composed of Centres, each of which represents its membership and not its country. Membership is open to all qualified writers, regardless of nationality, language, race, colour or religion, and every member is required to sign the P.E.N. Charter and by so doing to observe its conditions.

International P.E.N. Charter The P.E.N. Charter is based on resolutions passed at its International Congresses and may be summarized as follows:

P.E.N. affirms that:

  1. Literature, national though it be in origin, knows no frontiers, and should remain common currency between nations in spite of political or international upheavals.
  2. 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.
  3. Members of P.E.N. should at all times use what influence they have in favour of good understanding and mutual respect between nations; they pledge themselves to do their utmost to dispel race, class and national hatreds, and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace in one world.
  4. P.E.N. 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. P.E.N. 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 organized 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.

Membership of P.E.N. is open to all qualified writers, editors and translators who subscribe to these aims, without regard to nationality, language, race, colour or religion.


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