'Each letter day, I get so many letters from PEN members and I am engulfed by very beautiful feelings... I can feel myself with you, always, and perhaps that is why I never feel helpless.'
Zehra Doğan, Kurdish artist and writer
PENWrites is our international letter-writing campaign in solidarity with writers in prison and at risk around the world.
For decades, PEN has supported writers who are persecuted, harassed, and imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and PEN members have long supported fellow writers by sending letters of support.
The impact of such a simple act should not be underestimated.
Countless writers have told us how letters and messages they received provided much-needed moral support in extremely difficult circumstances, serving as a crucial reminder that they had not been forgotten. Others have spoken of how they were afforded better treatment in prison as a result of cards flooding in from all over the world.
How can you support imprisoned writers?
Sign up to the PENWrites mailing list to find out how you can support our featured writers.
We'll be in touch with details of their cases, PENWrites events, and the latest case developments as they unfold.
Our featured writers are Amanuel Asrat, Nedim Türfent, Pham Doan Trang, Writers in Myanmar, the staff and members of PEN Belarus, Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace, Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, Rahile Dawut, Galal El-Behairy, Jimmy Lai, and Mahvash Sabet – please take a few moments to send a message of support.
Read our helpful guide to writing letters in solidarity and how you can support writers at risk.
Do you have to be a member of English PEN to take part?
You don’t need to be a member of PEN to write to an imprisoned writer although we would encourage you to join if you are able to.
During our PENWrites campaign, we are highlighting key cases of concern, and we’re inviting everybody – including members, non-members, writers, readers, literary professionals – to have a go at letter writing.
What should I write?
It is entirely up to you what you would like to write about. You could write a simple and brief message to say that the person imprisoned has not been forgotten and they are in your thoughts. Or you might choose to write something longer in more of a pen-pal style, describing where you are, what you do and your interests, especially if you know the recipient has shared passions. You could even write creatively – a poem, for example – if you’re feeling inspired by the writer’s life and experiences.
How do the online messages reach the writers?
The online messages come directly to the English PEN team. We then send them on to the writers and/or their families.
Is it possible to send physical letters?
Yes, it is possible to send physical letters directly to some, but not all, of our featured writers providing you’re able to post the letters safely. Please email us at [email protected] to request postal addresses.
We ask that you don’t circulate or publish these addresses for the privacy and security of the recipients and their families.
We also recommend that you include a return address so that the writer can respond if they are able to do so. If you would prefer to use English PEN’s office address, you are very welcome to do so:
PEN WritesEnglish PEN24 Bedford RowLondonWC1R 4EH
Are there other ways that I can support writers at risk?
Yes, we would be very grateful if you’re able to do more – here are a few suggestions:
'I want you to know that your letters, which have rendered iron curtains meaningless and ineffective, have filled my two-step-long cell with resistance, resolve and hope.'
Nedim Türfent, Kurdish journalist and poet