Financial Times Feature – ‘How to Give It’

We were delighted that Holly Finn, who attended our Media Biz Quiz on 26th September as a guest of Jan Dalley, Literary Editor of the Financial Times and executive committee member of English PEN, (see Fundraiser brings the house down) was inspired to choose us as her first subject in ‘How to Give It’, the Financial Times’ answer to charities of the year (14th December 2002). In her inimitable American style Holly urged English readers to support us, and the article was felicitously juxtaposed with one about cultural patronage.

Full text of the article appears below: 

If knowing how to spend it matters, it matters at every level. Our annual series on causes worth contributing to starts with PEN, champion of writers’ freedom.

The British are multisyllabic. They pride themselves on having language skills so advanced that every pub crawl aspires to a night at the theatre. The empire was built, I’m pretty sure, not on savvy import-export arrangements, but wisecracks.

Listen to us now, though. The charm is getting stale, the effect of our wordsmithery waning. Even PEN, the organisation founded in London in 1921 to support writers’ freedom, is in need of a boost.

Elsewhere in the world, particularly in the US, PEN (Poets, Essayists and Novelists) is one of the hottest not-for-profits around. Yet here, where we supposedly value words as much as wampum, it’s only now lurching back from years lazying it up.

Still, now is a good time. When and where “security issues” curtail freedom of speech – PEN’s reason for being – an articulate champion is needed. With Victoria Glendinning, the latest in a long line of luminaries starting with Galsworthy, as president, PEN in London is definately on the upswing.

While the membership rules have been relaxed (now, anyone, not just the published, can at least be a friend of PEN, from £45), the commitment to the Writers in Prison program (which supports freedom of expression worldwide) and to the Readers and Writers program (which brings authors to the community) has been intensified. New programmes, such as oPEN evenings (writerly but open to all), will be introduced.

PEN’s executive director, Susie Nicklin, puts it plainly: “We’re bringing authors right into people’s faces.”

The organisation is not ashamed to use famous writers, of which Britain still has a surfeit, to champion not-so famous causes.

And PEN is not ashamed to ask for help. It now needs funds for permanent office space, for programme expenses and for staff. Talk is cheap. This isn’t.

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