- English PEN announces Common Currency programme to celebrate centenary year
- Common Currency is a year-long programme of events, residencies and workshops across UK and Ireland
- First event is a digital commission from Fatima Bhutto, read on 11 October
English PEN will celebrate its 100th anniversary with a new programme, Common Currency, working with a range of partners across the UK. Over the next year, writers, readers and activists will come together for a unique programme of events, residencies and workshops beginning in the autumn of 2020 and culminating with a three-day festival of free thinking at the Southbank Centre in 2021.
Taking its name from the PEN Charter that states ‘literature knows no frontiers and must remain common currency among people’, Common Currency combines timely debates on freedom of expression, creative campaigning and a celebration of diverse voices. It seeks to ignite a national conversation around issues of expression led by writers and readers. As such, the programme is organised under three key themes inspired by the PEN Charter: free speech and democracy, languages and ideas, and celebrating women.
Fatima Bhutto: A World on Fire
Common Currency commences on 11 October with a virtual event held in partnership with Durham Book Festival. Acclaimed author Fatima Bhutto will read from her exclusive essay A World on Fire, co-commissioned by New Writing North and English PEN, from 4-5pm. In this thought-provoking and poignant piece, she takes PEN’s Women’s Manifesto as a starting point to explore the violence of today’s world, and the kindness and love she believes are essential to our survival in these tumultuous times. Places can be reserved here.
English PEN is partnering on Common Currency with six arts organisations across the UK with the aim to ignite a truly nationwide conversation. The partners include:
- Southbank Centre, London: A three-day festival of free thought at the world-renowned venue in September 2021.
- Bristol Cultural Development Partnership: The Mayor’s Annual State of the City Address 2020 with Marvin Rees at Bristol Festival of Ideas, 14 October, and a series of events across the year exploring the role of democracy.
- Metal, Southend-on-Sea: International author residencies, and week-long culture lab for young people.
- New Writing North, Newcastle: Author residency, special commission and virtual event at Durham Book Festival with Fatima Bhutto, 11 October.
- Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature: Workshops and debates exploring the role of English PEN and the PEN Charter today, facilitated by local writers with young ambassadors and university students.
- Off the Shelf Festival of Words, Sheffield: The Dear Sister project will bring Ubah Cristina Ali Farah, a Somali Italian poet, novelist, playwright, librettist and oral performer, to Sheffield to work with writers and communities as part of Off the Shelf Festival in 2020/2021. The focus of the project will be women’s letter writing as a form of creative practice, a call to action, and as a way of giving voice to diverse experiences that might otherwise be hidden, or dismissed as domestic and ordinary.
The programme will also see the return of First Editions, Second Thoughts (FEST) 2021, an auction of first editions annotated by the authors themselves, curated and produced by Belinda Kitchin and hosted by English PEN. The last FEST auction was held in 2013 and raised £439,200. Fifty authors generously annotated a first edition of their most famous book, including lots such as Seamus Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.
PENWrites, an international letter-writing campaign, organised in solidarity with writers in prison and at risk around the world, will be launched live at the PEN Pinter Prize ceremony on 12 October.
For decades, PEN has campaigned on behalf of writers, literary professionals, journalists, artists, cartoonists and musicians who are unjustly persecuted, harassed, imprisoned, and even murdered in violation of their right to freedom of expression. Ahead of the centenary in 2021, English PEN are launching a year-long letter-writing campaign, inviting supporters around the world to join them in celebrating and supporting writers of courage by sending letters of solidarity to them and their families.
PEN members have long supported fellow writers in this way and the impact of this simple act cannot be underestimated. These letters provide much-needed moral support for writers and their families during extremely difficult times, serving as a crucial reminder that they have not been forgotten.
More events, projects and partnerships will be announced throughout the year.
Daniel Gorman, Director of English PEN, says:
English PEN has been championing the freedom to write, the freedom to read and for literature to remain a common currency in the UK and around the world since our inception in 1921. The world has changed considerably over that time, yet our work at the intersection between literature, human rights and freedom of expression remains as relevant as ever. To mark this moment we’re thrilled to launch Common Currency – a unique and ambitious year-long programme of events, debates, writer residencies, literary commissions, campaigning, and fundraising, and we invite the nation to join us to celebrate a century of English PEN.
Common Currency is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
Tasja Dorkofikis, Relationship Manager (Literature, Translation), Arts Council England says:
Arts Council England is delighted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of English PEN by supporting its Common Currency campaign. English PEN, one of the oldest human rights organisations, has always worked for and with writers, protected freedom of expression, and championed international literature – its centenary celebrations, with its three diverse strands, promise to be an important contribution to our cultural life and to the conversation around issues of free speech and creativity.
For more information, please contact Four Culture:
[email protected] / 07740 725206
[email protected] / (0)20 3697 4200
For more information about English PEN, please contact Hannah Trevarthen, Events and Partnerships Manager:
[email protected] / 07816 375262
Notes to editors
English PEN is one of the world’s oldest human rights organisations, championing the freedom to write and read. We are the founding centre of PEN International, a worldwide writers’ association with 145 centres in more than 100 countries. With the support of our members – a community of readers, writers and activists – we protect freedom of expression whenever it is under attack, support writers facing persecution around the world, and celebrate contemporary international writing with literary prizes, grants, events, and our online magazine PEN Transmissions.
English PEN’s work is made possible through core funding from Arts Council England, Sigrid Rausing Trust, and the TS Eliot Foundation alongside the support of members, project partners and Silver PEN partners.
About the Common Currency partners
Bristol Cultural Development Partnership: BCDP was founded in 1993 in the belief that investing in culture makes a city a better place to work and live. Our programme for 2020 includes A Poetic City which marks the 250th anniversary of the death of Bristol-born Thomas Chatterton, celebrates the city’s present-day poets and aims to inspire the poets of the future. We also led the initial development of At-Bristol, Encounters Festivals, Digital Arts Development Agency, South West Arts Marketing and Bristol Legible City. BCDP is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation.
Metal: Metal is an artistic laboratory championing the need for investment in artistic innovation in the UK, and providing practical support to practising artists. We have been active in Liverpool since 2004, in Southend-on-Sea since 2007 and in Peterborough since 2012. In each place, we work from buildings of historic significance that we have transformed from empty or derelict spaces into vibrant cultural community hubs. From these bases, we work to provide the catalyst that can transform the potential of people and places through great art and inspiring ideas.
New Writing North: New Writing North is a development agency for creative writing and creative reading based in the north east of England. We specialise in the development of talent and act as a dynamic broker between writers, agents and producers across the creative industries. As a promoter of new writing we work to engage people with creative reading, with live literary experiences and with new plays, films and digital work. Our commitment to raising the aspirations and developing the creativity of young people and communities is realised through the production of creative projects which seek to engage new audiences and to delight and surprise those who already participate.
Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature: As a UNESCO City of Literature, our mission is to build a better world with words. Our permanent designation as a UNESCO Creative City enables us to use the power of words to transform lives, create new opportunities and establish Nottingham as a leading destination for lovers of literature worldwide.
Off the Shelf Festival of Words: Off the Shelf is one of the largest and most accessible literary festivals in the UK. Every year we bring the biggest names in literature and the arts to Sheffield. Since 1991, we have established ourselves as one of the highlights of the cultural calendar in Sheffield. Our core mission is to bring literature and the arts to all parts of the community. Our programme of events is curated jointly by Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Sheffield, the only UK literature festival to be run in this way.
Southbank Centre: The Southbank Centre is the UK’s largest arts centre and one of the UK’s top five visitor attractions, occupying a prominent riverside location that sits in the midst of London’s most vibrant cultural quarter on the South Bank of the Thames. We exist to present great cultural experiences that bring people together and we achieve this by providing the space for artists to create and present their best work and by creating a place where as many people as possible can come together to experience bold, unusual and eye-opening work. We want to take people out of the everyday, every day. The site has an extraordinary creative and architectural history stretching back to the 1951 Festival of Britain. The Southbank Centre is made up of the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery as well as being home to the National Poetry Library and the Arts Council Collection. It is also home to four Resident Orchestras (London Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, London Sinfonietta and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment) and four Associate Orchestras (Aurora Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, Chineke! Orchestra and National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain).
Further information about the first Common Currency event
Fatima Bhutto was born in Kabul, Afghanistan and grew up between Syria and Pakistan. She is the author of six books of fiction and non-fiction. Her debut novel, The Shadow of the Crescent Moon, was long-listed for the Women’s Prize and her memoir about her father’s life and assassination, Songs of Blood and Sword, was published to acclaim. Her most recent novel is The Runaways, which follows three brilliantly memorable characters on their path to radicalisation.