Books to Prisoners

The Book to Prisoners Programme is an initiative of the Writers in Prison Committee. The purpose of the programme is to distribute books to imprisoned writers of concern to PEN across the globe.

Why send books?

The act of sending a work of literature to an imprisoned writer has great impact:

• A comfort to the recipient, demonstrating they are not forgotten, in a very practical manner
• An appropriate, non-political expression of solidarity with writers in prison
• A means of promoting literature around the world
• A non-confrontational way to remind authorities that the international human rights community is monitoring the plight of individual prisoners, and the actions of their regime.

Who participates?

Publishers, literary magazines, literary critics, and any PEN member who is able to commit to donating books on a regular, ongoing basis.  The programme has its own committee, which promotes the programme within the publishing industry, and ensures that all English PEN’s Honorary Members are sent books on a regular basis.

How does it work?

When a publishing house or individual PEN member joins the programme, they are assigned one or more individuals who are in prison abroad.  The member agrees to send a book to the imprisoned writer, at the rate of at least twice a year.  Postage costs are met by the participating company or member.

All the prisoners are listed in the Writers’ in Prison Committee case list, and are selected because, in the opinion of International PEN, they are imprisoned because of their writing.  Should the circumstances of a writer’s imprisonment change (for example, if they are released or transferred) members will be informed of the new circumstances.

In translation…

Most of our Honorary Members in prison do not speak English as their first language, and many cannot read or speak English at all.  This year, we are therefore aiming to send more books to prisoners in their own languages. To this end, we are hoping to recruit new members who have their books available in translation, or who have collaborators overseas who may be able to donate books to the programme.

How do I get involved?

If you are interested in working with English PEN’s Books to Prisoners programme, please email us at or call the office on 020 7324 2535. 

English PEN would like to thank current members of the Books to Prisoners Committee for their help with this extremely worthwhile initiative:

Arcadia Books (Gary Pulsifer – Chair)

Atlantic Books (Marion McGilvary)

CRW Publishing (Marcus Clapham)

Haus Publishing (Barbara Schwepcke)

Little, Brown (Andy Hine, Zoe Hood, Paola Ehrlich, Viv Redman, Elise Dillsworth, Emma Mojarab) 

Profile Books (Daniel Crewe)



Released writer General Gallardo with his daughter and wife and some of the books he received from English PEN’s Books to Prisoners Committee while he was in prison.

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