It is with great honour that I join you as the new director of English PEN. I’ve focused on the intersection between art and politics for the past 15 years, most recently as co-director of the Shubbak festival of contemporary Arab culture and as a co-founder of Highlight Arts, which works with artists in areas of conflict. I’ve collaborated with English PEN at various points over the course of these projects, and I’m delighted to be joining the organisation as director as we move towards our Centenary in 2021.
English PEN is one of the world’s oldest human rights organisations, championing the right to read and write around the world. The PEN Charter underpins all of our work. It speaks clearly of the need to champion free expression based on a premise of ‘mutual respect’ and to counter the ‘evils’ of ‘ mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood and distortions of fact’. It also highlights that ‘ knows no frontiers, and should remain a common currency between nations’.
The backbone to English PEN is our membership. I sincerely hope you will join our community of authors, bloggers, translators, readers and activists as we look to our hundredth year – it’s people like you who make this vital aim a reality.
Campaigning for writers at risk
At a moment of increasing isolationism, English PEN is proudly international in its outlook. Writers across the world face growing risks. We continue to campaign for those in danger and imprisoned, including the case of human rights defender and poet Ahmed Mansoor in the UAE.
We’re taking huge steps to expand our international solidarity by hosting a number of these writers in the UK. We believe that providing the space for writers to think, free from the constant risk of imprisonment or worse, is vital. Our current writers in residence are Nurcan Baysal, a Kurdish writer and human rights defender, and Zehra Doğan, a Kurdish artist and journalist.
Things to celebrate
It’s such an exciting time to be part of English PEN. Over the last few months, we’ve helped to keep the precious copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the UK, celebrated Lemn Sissay and Befeqadu Hailu winning the 2019 PEN Pinter Prize, and welcomed the release of filmmaker and writer Oleg Sentsov.
We also welcomed Nobel Prize winning writer Svetlana Alexievich to the British Library, hosted a fantastic International Translation Day event, and created an anthology of work by young refugee and migrant writers – you can read ‘Word Bridges’ for yourself here.
And there’s much more to come. Check out our exciting events coming up this Autumn – I hope to see you there!
With very best wishes,
Director of English PEN
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