English PEN’s outreach programme, Readers & Writers, is for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, refugees and asylum seekers, and prisoners and young offenders. It offers vulnerable, often marginalised and unheard people the opportunity to express their voices by taking part in imaginative and transformative creative writing and reading projects. They also have the chance to explore world literature and free speech.

Our creative programme helps people enjoy their freedom to write and freedom to read, promotes a lifelong engagement with literature and improves literacy. It also champions the multilingual skills of many of the people we work with through creative translation projects. Professionally produced anthologies of writing by participants are published and often launched at celebration events where these new writers can perform their work.

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Our approach

We value the relationships with our host partners, those organisations where we hold our workshops and events: inner-city schools; refugee centres; prisons and young offender institutions; community groups and care centres.

Every year our cohort of professional, published writers lead inspiring and transformative creative writing workshops and events. Our English PEN writers are highly skilled in working with diverse communities. They include Avaes Mohammad, Bidisha, Dzifa Benson, Femi Martin, Inua Ellams, Joelle Taylor, Kat Lewis, Malika Booker, Shazea Quraishi and Simon Mole.

Writer and translator Shazea Quraishi writes:

My work with English PEN’s Readers & Writers programme is the most satisfying and valuable work I engage in outside writing. I appreciate the privilege of working with new writers to support them in finding a voice and a way to tell their stories. With PEN I have always felt respected and valued as a writer, and supported to design and deliver accessible, inspiring sessions. The work itself is so rewarding and so varied, it has helped to grow me as a writer and facilitator. It is a privilege to work with PEN and an honour; it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the prestige of being a PEN writer.

Poet Malika Booker writes about leading workshops for English PEN:

There is so much discovery for a creative writer like myself working with communities that have become invisible or voiceless or who are in a country where the language spoken is not their language. I have discovered the power of writing to initiate change in the individual whether that is empowering them with confidence, enabling them t articulate or process their experiences. But most importantly the power of a single poem to create so much passion in a group of refugee writers that they struggle beyond the language to try to communicate how that poem makes them feel thus, through art, their English improves. This all challenges my own practise and enables me to use my knowledge to change, benefit, challenge, excite, educate and ultimately provide the tools for better communication. I begin to understand the power of writing.