[Student PEN] Free Voice at Liverpool PEN

We’ve been hugely impressed by Frances Webb, a third year student at the University of Liverpool, who devised and curated a whole afternoon of readings and papers for students, lecturers and the general public, in aid of English PEN. We asked Frances to write about the experience in the hope we encourage other students to set up their own Free Voice event.

Liverpool Student PEN was a brand new society at the University of Liverpool last year. The main aim of the society was to promote PEN to the university as extensively as possible and so, after many months of planning, the day of the “Free Voice” event (17th April) had finally arrived! The event took place in the beautiful Arts Library on the university’s campus, a perfect setting for an afternoon of sharing ideas and views about the importance of free speech.

The event aimed to promote PEN and create awareness about past and present global free speech issues. Each speaker at the “Free Voice” event shared their own views and ideas about free speech topics such as censorship, ethnicity and gender in literature and how to use the freedom of expression effectively.

The first speaker of the “Free Voice” event was English PEN’s very own Philip Cowell. He discussed PEN’s work and how free speech is so important in our society. Philip also talked through features of the English PEN website, encouraging audience members to look at the site themselves and become involved in the PEN community.

The fantastic poet and current editor of MPT, Sasha Dugdale, was the next speaker at the “Free Voice” event. She provided the audience with a fascinating account of the Pussy Riot trials taking place in Russia. She talked of the girls’ poor treatment whilst imprisoned and the corruption that has surrounded their trial and other trials regarding free speech issues. Sasha’s topic of discussion was insightful and enlightening, highlighting the current free speech controversy that is plaguing Russia.

Before the refreshment break, Dr Sandeep Parmar, a published poet and lecturer in English at the University of Liverpool, shared her topic of discussion: the underrepresentation of ethnicity in British poetry. Sandeep shared interesting and fascinating views about the lack of publicity surrounding ethnic and minority poets, highlighting an issue that is present in Britain today.

After breaking for refreshments, the second half of the “Free Voice” event began with the speaker, Dr Andrew Biswell, director of the Anthony Burgess foundation and a principal lecturer in English at Manchester Metropolitan University. Andrew discussed Anthony Burgess’ experience of free speech and censorship issues in Malta and other countries. Anthony Burgess was awarded the PEN/Ackerley prize in 1988 for his work and it was fascinating to hear about his commitment to freedom of expression and pushing the boundaries of literature.

Dr John Redmond, a published writer, editor and senior lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Liverpool, was the next speaker at the “Free Voice” event. John looked at the freedom of expression used in Seamus Heany’s poetry and applied it to the present day. He discussed how free speech is a responsibility as well as a basic human right and we must be wise in how we use our freedom of expression.

Professor Deryn Rees-Jones, a lecturer in English at the University of Liverpool and an established poet, spoke about the topic of women and censorship. She looked upon past issues regarding the lack of free speech amongst women and how this has progressed to the present day. However, there still remains some issues in relation to women and the freedom of expression, such issues that need to be addressed.

The final speakers of the “Free Voice” event were students from the Creative Writing Society at the University of Liverpool. They shared their own views, prose and poetry about different free speech issues, such as the current concern of “trolls” on the internet. Each student spoke confidently and had written fascinating pieces. They also expressed an interest in continuing to promote the presence of PEN at the University of Liverpool in the future.

Overall, the “Free Voice” event was a fantastic event, highlighting a wide range of thoughts and issues related to free speech. It addressed past and present concerns and the event finished with the awarding of books supported by PEN from Philip Cowell to audience members. Hopefully, those present at the “Free Voice” event were inspired to research the charity further and become involved in its on-going campaigns. The main message to come out of the event was that free speech should be accessible to everyone and it is an important part of our lives.



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