Newsletter May 2011

From the Director

I gave evidence to Parliament last week about the impact of English libel law on free speech (you can watch my contribution here). This is the latest stage in our two-year campaign for libel reform with Index on Censorship and Sense about Science. The Government’s draft Defamation Bill is a good start but more needs to be done to make the law fit for purpose in the twenty-first century. We will keep you posted as this major campaign moves forwards.

Meanwhile, I’ve been looking into an important chapter in PEN’s history – 1933-36, when HG Wells was President and PEN strengthened its commitment to free speech in the face of censorship in Germany, Italy, Spain and Russia. My research suggests that PEN’s response to these challenges was pivotal, not only for our organisation but for the world. Did PEN’s work at this time lead to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948? We don’t yet know enough about our own history to be able to answer this question. But with the support of academics at King’s and elsewhere an important lost chapter in literary history is coming into focus.

And so, looking forwards and backwards, we’re marking our 90th anniversary year. This week’s event about PEN’s role in the Second World War will take the story into fascinating new territory. I hope very much to see you there.

Jonathan Heawood

Writers in Public

Our packed Summer events schedule kicks off on Wednesday 11 May with a discussion on the indomitable Margaret Storm Jameson, President of English PEN during the defining years 1938-44. Join writer and academic Dr Lara Feigel, Dr Jennifer Birkett, Jameson’s biographer and historian Juliet Gardiner as they examine this remarkable woman and PEN’s transformation during the war years. Chaired by Lindsay Mackie.

Also this month, Writing Freedom, the English PEN 90th Anniversary Roadshow, will be appearing at both the Brighton Festival and How the Light Gets In. Confirmed readers include Bidisha, Deborah Moggach and Jake Arnott.

April saw us play host to an incredible number of great writers from around the world. From April 6-10, we celebrated some of the very best in international writing. Free the Word 2011! featured fascinating discussions on topics such as the political role of crime fiction and whether artists and writers should engage in cultural boycotts. You can view photographs featuring top writers Geoff Dyer, Romesh Gunesekera, Gabriel Josipovici, Hisham Matar, Margie Orford, Juan Gabriel Vasquez and many more on our flickr site. Video interviews with writers from the festival are also appearing on our Youtube channel.

Also this month, the English PEN Literary Café returned to London Book Fair for a fourth successful year. We hosted a range of Russian Market Focus authors in partnership with the British Council, as well as a number of other great writers including Philip Hensher, Kazuo Ishiguro, Cory Doctorow, Margie Orford and Claire Tomalin. We also awarded the PEN/Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History 2010/11 to Toby Wilkinson for his book The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt: the History of a Civilisation from 3000 BC to Cleopatra.

Photographs from the majority of English PEN events can be seen on our rapidly growing Flickr site. The Writers in Public programme also has its own dedicated Facebook page – do sign up as a fan to be kept up to date with all our public events.

English PEN no longer issues paper tickets for its events. When your booking is made you will be entered on a list in the office and this list will be used to verify your booking on the night. Should you need a receipt for your own records for any event, then please email Amy Oliver on with the details and we will be happy to provide one.

Sarah Hesketh
Assistant Director

To find out more about events at the Free Word Centre, visit Free Word’s events page.

Readers & Writers

Readers & Writers is currently under construction! Or so it feels. We’ve reached the end of our financial year and so it’s been crucial to evaluate what we’ve done and let our funders know about the good work they have helped produce. Now we’re looking for donors to fund an even more adventurous programme that involves sending writers to places where literature is missing.

Last year, we produced over 100 creative writing and reading workshops in prisons and refugee centres, including our new work exploring free speech and citizenship. With new support from the Monument Trust, our prison work is secure for this year – and we’re sending Malorie Blackman in to HMP Holloway with her books very soon. Our team is currently fundraising to ensure we can continue sending published writers – including English PEN members – in to refugee centres so that we can create even more books of writing by refugees and asylum seekers. Why not read an article about our work with young newly-arrived people?

Here’s a taster of writing produced on our refugee programme from the poem Fire written by Eunice Omorer and friends: “The nights around the woods when the sounds of burning words and the smell of sweet curry and bean fill the air. I think of the heat from the fire that makes my skin warm and the light that glows bright red.” And this, from Margaret Nambi: “In Uganda – when I was still in my country, we dig to our own soil to get food.”

If you’re interested in getting a copy of one of our latest books, email Philip on

Philip Cowell
Programme Manager

Irene Garrow

Programme Officer

Writers in Prison

Cases of concern


On 20 April, a crowd of 50 people gathered opposite the Azerbaijan embassy in London to mark four years since the arrest of Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev and to call for his immediate and unconditional release. Demonstrators wearing masks bearing a photograph of Eynulla’s face stood opposite the Embassy for an hour to send their message loud and clear, calling in both English and Azerbaijani calling for his freedom and for greater freedom of expression in Azerbaijan. Many thanks to all those who participated in the demonstration.

To see English PEN’s video of the demonstration, please click here.
To see photos of the demonstration, please click here.


We are seriously concerned for the welfare of internationally renowned artist and prominent government critic Ai Weiwei following his arrest at Beijing airport on 3 April 2011. We are seeking urgent guarantees of his safety and demanding that he is given full access to his family and legal representation immediately. For more information, please click here.


We warmly welcomed the release of our Honorary Member singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga (real name: Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo) on 8 April 2011. Mbanga was freed on completion of a three-year prison sentence for allegedly instigating anti-government riots. For more information, please click here.


We are absolutely delighted to report that the last remaining Cuban journalist in prison, Habana Press director Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, has now been released. Du Bouchet, who had served almost two years of a three-year sentence, arrived in Spain after agreeing to go into exile in exchange for his release. For more information, please click here.


I Have No Enemies: Nobel Peace Prize Documentary on Liu Xiaobo

Monday 9 May 2011, 6.30pm
Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London, EC1R 3GA

Join us on tonight, Monday 9 May for the first public screening in the UK of ‘I have no enemies’, the Nobel Peace Prize Documentary on Liu Xiaobo, the only Nobel laureate currently in detention.

The 30-minute documentary, directed by Claudine Parrish and produced by Nobel Media, features interviews with many of Liu Xiaobo’s friends and colleagues, including celebrated international artist Ai Weiwei who was arrested on 3 April and whose whereabouts remain unknown. Other interviewees include fellow Tiananmen hunger striker Zhou Duo, President of Independent Chinese PEN Center Tienchi Martin-Liao, and Thorbjørn Jagland, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Following the film screening, there will be a Q&A session with panellists including the film’s director Claudine Parrish and Chair of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, Salil Tripathi. The discussion will be chaired by distinguished journalist and China expert Isabel Hilton.

For more information, please click here.

The event is free but as space is limited please reserve your place in advance via the Free Word website.


Writing to prisoners: If you are interested in writing to one of our current cases of concern on a regular basis, or in joining our Books to Prisoners programme, please contact

Facebook: Those of you on Facebook can keep up to date with current cases of concern and WiPC activities by clicking ‘like’ on the English PEN Writers in Prison page. And please recommend it to all your friends!

Cat Lucas
Campaigns Officer

If you would like to join the Rapid Action Network, please email Members of the network receive periodic emails containing details of cases requiring urgent action, appropriate wording for your appeal, and the fax numbers/addresses to which appeals should be sent. Joining the Network is also a way of signalling to the office your special interest in the Writers in Prison Programme of English PEN.

UK Campaigns

Libel Reform

Consultation on the government’s draft defamation bill is now in progress. Our director Jonathan Heawood was invited, along with our Libel Reform Campaign partners, to give evidence to a parliamentary scrutiny committee, presenting the case for reform. While we welcome the government’s draft bill, we do not believe it goes far enough in providing proper defences. You can help pressurise the government by writing to your MP.

Our Alternative Libel Project, which is being carried out jointly with Index on Censorship, is now under way. We are currently forming an advisory committee which is being chaired by Sir Stephen Sedley, who has recently retired from his post as a Court of Appeal judge, and our lead researcher, Helen Anthony, has been in post since the beginning of April. The project will look at alternative procedures for bringing libel claims, to see if a viable alternative to the current High Court based process can be established. We are also feeding in to the Government’s consultation on changes to the High Court procedure which forms part of their work in the defamation bill. The project is expected to last for a year, so look out for regular up dates on its progress in future newsletters.

Robert Sharp
Campaigns Manager

Helen Anthony
Lead Researcher

Writers in Translation

We are delighted to announce that the following books have been selected by the Writers in Translation Committee to receive awards for the second half of 2011:

  • The Fat Years – Chan Koonchung
    Translated from the Chinese by Michael Duke

    The Fat Years
    takes us to Beijing, sometime in the near future, where a month has gone missing from official records. No one has any memory of it, and no one can care less. Except for a small circle of friends, who will stop at nothing to get to the bottom of the sinister cheerfulness and amnesia that has possessed the Chinese nation. When they kidnap a high-ranking official and force him to reveal all, what they learn – not only about their leaders, but also about their own people – stuns them to the core. It is a message that will rock the world. Terrifying methods of cunning, deception and terror are unveiled by the truth-seekers in this thriller-expose of the Communist Party’s stranglehold on China today. To be published Transworld Publishers in July 2011
  • The Colonel – Mahmoud Dowlatabadi
    Translated from the Farsi by Tom Patterdale

    Inside his house the Colonel is immersed in thought. Memories are storming in. Memories of his wife. Memories of the great patriots of the past, all of them assassinated or executed. Memories of his children, who had joined the different factions of the 1979 revolution. There is a knock on the door. Two young policemen have come to summon the Colonel to collect the tortured body of his youngest daughter and bury her before sunrise. The Islamic Revolution, like every other revolution in history, is devouring its own children. And whose fault is that? The Colonel – a shocking diatribe against the failures of the Iranian left over the last fifty years – does not leave one taboo unbroken.
    To be published by Haus Publishing in July 2011
  • Seven Ways to Kill a Cat – Matías Néspolo

    Translated from the Spanish by Frank Wynne
    Set during the lead-up to the 2001 financial crash in Argentina, when tensions are running high and the streets are full of protestors, Seven Ways to Kill a Cat shows the limited escape routes open to someone like Gringo, whom we first meet barbecuing a cat with his friend Chueco because they haven’t got enough to eat. In a story as fast-paced and immediate as a film, written in the street-talk of Buenos Aires, Néspolo tracks the violent coming-of-age of Gringo, an orphaned boy who isn’t yet twenty but who has to survive in an adult world of crime, prostitution and drug dealing.
    To be published by Harvill Secker in November 2011

  • Three Strong Women – Marie NDiaye
    Translated from the French by John Fletcher

    This is the story of three women who refuse to be bowed by circumstances or submit to expectations. Forty-year-old Norah leaves Paris, her family and her career as a lawyer to visit her father in Dakar. It is an uncomfortable reunion – she is asked to use her skills as a lawyer to get her brother out of prison – and ultimately the trip endangers her marriage and her relationship with her daughter, and drives her to the very edge of madness. Fanta, on the other hand, leaves Dakar to follow her husband Rudy to rural France. And it is through Rudy’s bitter and guilt-ridden perspective that we see Fanta stagnate with boredom in this alien, narrow environment. Khady is forced into exile from Senegal because of poverty, because her husband is dead, because she is lonely and in despair. With other illegal immigrants, she embarks on a journey which takes her nowhere, but from which she will never return.

    To be published by MacLehose Press in September 2011

  • Purgatory – Tomás Eloy Martínez
    Translated from the Spanish by Frank Wynne

    is a ghost story, the ghost story which has been Argentina’s history since 1973. Simón Cardoso, a cartographer like his wife Emilia, had vanished during one of their trips to map an uncharted country road. Later testimonies had confirmed that he had been one of the thousands of victims of the military regime – arrested, tortured and executed for being a “subversive.” Yet Emilia had refused to believe this account, and had spent her entire life waiting for him to reappear. While skirting around the mystery of Simón’s reappearance, Eloy Martínez masterfully peels away layer upon layer of history -both personal and political. Just as Simón’s disappearance comes to represent the thousands of disappearances that became such a common occurrence during the dictatorship, so Emilia’s refusal to accept his death mirror’s the country’s unwillingness to face its reality.
    To be published by Bloomsbury in November 2011
  • I Was Born There, I Was Born Here – Mourid Barghouti

    Translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies
    In 1996 Barghouti went back to his Palestinian home for the first time since exile following the Six-Day War in 1967, first in Egypt and then in Hungary, and wrote a poignant and incisive account of the exile’s lot in the acclaimed memoir I Saw Ramallah. In 2003 he returned to Ramallah to introduce his Cairo-born son, Tamim Barghouti, to his Palestinian family. Ironically, within a year Tamim himself had been arrested for taking part in a demonstration against the impending Iraq War and found himself not only in the same Cairo prison from which his father had been expelled from Egypt when Tamim was a baby, but in the very same cell. I Was Born There, I was Born Here traces Barghouti’s own life in recent years and in the past – early life in Palestine, expulsion from Cairo, exile to Budapest, marriage to one of Egypt’s leading writers and critics (Radwa Ashour), the birth of his son, Tamim, and then the young man’s own expulsion from Cairo.
    To be published by Bloomsbury in November 2011

In May, we’re also supporting the publication of Beauty and the Inferno by Roberto Saviano, translated from the Italian by Oonagh Stransky. Roberto Saviano is best known for his work on the Italian mafia, but Beauty and the Inferno also tackles universal themes with great insight and humanity, with urgency, and often with anger. This important collection includes essays on the legacy of the earthquake at L’Aquila, a town at risk of becoming overrun by mafia; boxing as an escape route; the life of the legendary South African jazz singer, Miriam Makeba; an encounter with Salman Rushdie, and a tribute to Frank Miller, author of the graphic novel 300; Michael Herr’s Dispatches. One essay reflects on the aftermath of the publication of his book and subsequent film, Gomorrah, and how his life has been conditioned by the mafia’s death threats, and the final essay in the collection celebrates the life of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. To be Published by MacLehose Press in May 2011

The Literary Translation Centre

This year’s Literary Translation Centre at the London Book Fair was a great success, as you can see from the crowds. The space provided a lively and dynamic space for translators, publishers, students and other industry professionals to meet alongside a very well attended seminar programme. Shreela Ghosh asked Caroline McCormick, former director of International PEN, to give five top tips on persuading the un-converted to support great causes – like literary translation – with funding. Edgar de Bruin introduced us to the idea of public investment for translated titles – a practice that is being developed in Holland – in a seminar chaired by Professor Amanda Hopkinson on the subject of creating a ‘Translation Agency’. And we also heard from our Director, Jonathan Heawood, about new research into translation through the Global Translation Initiative (see below).

Flying Off The Shelves – a Global Translation Initiative report (GTI)

This month GTI partners English PEN and Free Word published and distributed Flying Off The Shelves at the London Book Fair’s celebrated Literary Translation Centre. This interim report draws together some of the most innovative and exciting ideas that emerged from discussions and debates about education, training, promotion and funding on International Translation Day 2010. The report also includes a summary of the groundbreaking research commissioned by the GTI from Dalkey Archive Press into the barriers to translation. The full report is published on the Dalkey website and is available for download here.

The ongoing dialogue between translators, academics, teachers, agents, publishers, booksellers, funders, journalists, NGOs and cultural representatives will continue at this year’s International Translation Day, 30th September 2011.

Copies of Flying Off The Shelves are available to download here. Or you can pick up a free copy from the Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, EC1R 3GA.


London International Documentary Festival

The UK Premiere of documentary In the Shadows of Death (directed by Eliza Mantin) panel with Misha Glenny (writer on global organised crime and an admirer and friend of Roberto Saviano).

In the Shadows of Death follows Roberto Saviano in his daily life and struggles, treated as a hero by a young Italian generation and as a traitor by the Camorra. These screenings coincide with the UK publication of Roberto Saviano’s new book Beauty and the Inferno

Screenings take place on 19th and 20th May at 7.30pm
Venue: Courthouse Hotel

Read more and book here

World Literature Weekend

Javier Cercas: The Anatomy of a Moment

Join Javier Cercas in conversation with Paul Preston, professor of Spanish history at LSE, and Nick Caistor, translator and journalist, who reported from Spain at the time of the coup. Our chair will be the novelist and historical biographer Lisa Hilton.

Saturday 18th June at 4.00 p.m.
Venue: Stevenson Room, British Museum

Read more and book here

Emma Cleave
Programme Manager

Messages from Friends of English PEN

Sherlock Holmes & Undershaw Preservation Trust Tunnel Walk

Undershaw, the house built in 1897 to the designs of Arthur Conan Doyle, close to the Devil’s Punchbowl in the Surrey hills at Hindhead, is now derelict and threatened with conversion into apartments. The house is a fine example of late Victorian architecture. Conan Doyle’s detective, Sherlock Holmes, and his colleague, Dr Watson, were already famous literary characters when Undershaw was built, and many Holmes stories were written while Conan Doyle was in residence at Undershaw. For many years the house has suffered by reason of its proximity to the busy crossroads on the A3 at Hindhead, but the Hindhead A3 road tunnel, to open in mid-year, will bring considerable environmental improvement to Hindhead. Prior to the tunnel opening, a tunnel walk-through is being organised on Saturday 14 May, and many of the walkers will be wearing deerstalker hats, as popularised by Sherlock Holmes, to raise awareness for the Undershaw Preservation Trust and its campaign to save this remarkable house. For more information go to and

The V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize 2011

The Royal Society of Literature is now accepting entries for The V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize 2011. £1,000 award for a short story. The winning story will be published in Prospect and the RSL Review. In addition, the winner will have the opportunity to appear at an RSL event with high profile short story writers in autumn 2011.

For details go to or call 020 7845 4677. The deadline for applications is 30th June 2011.

The South Bank Poetry Competition 2011

The inaugural South Bank Poetry competition is now accepting entries up to 50 lines with a London focus or context. Any explicit London connection, past, present or future, is acceptable. The closing date is 9 May 2011. Visit the Poetry Library’s website for further details.

Jacob Ross: How the Novel Works

7 May, 10.30am-4.30pm
The Free Word Centre

Ever wonder why some novels simply work better than others? Why some are timeless and others still on the slush pile? Join Jacob Ross as he examines how fictional narratives are made, what makes a novel more or less marketable, and why titles matter. The workshop will set purposeful challenges and exercises that you can take away with you.

All-day workshop, £75/ £45 concessions. Includes lunch, tea and coffee. Book here.

Synergy Theatre Project presents CONVICTIONS

9-21 May, Soho Theatre

Tests of faith, truth and nerve from the imaginations of prisoners and ex-prisoners, Synergy’s first festival of new plays celebrates the work of five compelling new playwrights with two production premieres and three readings. Book on 020 7478 0100 or

Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

13 – 30 May
BFI Southbank

In little over a decade, this writer-director from Chad in central Africa has become one of the continent’s leading storytellers. A master of quietly political local fables, Haroun’s films reflect a life lived between two continents. He studied filmmaking in Paris in the 1980s and has lived in France for the last three decades, while Chad remains the location and inspiration for all four of his cinema films from his first feature, the self-examining Bye Bye Africa (1999), in which he played a version of himself returning to Chad from France, to his latest, A Screaming Man (2010). A Screaming Man tells of a former swimming champion in his 60s in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena who makes a terrible choice when war and economic difficulties threaten his livelihood and sense of self-worth. The politics of Haroun’s films are quiet – but his films are political nonetheless: he distills ideas about migration, poverty, fractured families and war into calm, intimate stories. Find out more on BFI’s website.

Book Industry Conference 2011

16-17 May
Kings Place, 90 York Way, London

The Book Industry Conference is a crucial and agenda setting gathering, and a unique occasion in the book trade calendar – one that attracts all corners of the industry to debate the pressing issues that we face. This year’s agenda will celebrate the industry as the creative heart – the go-to place for content for so many – across film and media to education and theatre. Speakers will look at how we can work together better as an industry, collaborate across industries, and engage our readers of the future. Keynote Speaker: Sir Richard Eyre (Award winning director of film, theatre and writer of four books) will set the scene, and BBC Arts commissioner Mark Bell, will talk about the books on the BBC, and other exciting initiatives. Publishers, booksellers and authors are the crucial voices in the industry, and we urge everyone and anyone with an interest in – and passion – for books to attend, to join the debate.

For more information please contact or visit

26th May Margaret Drabble & Helen Simpson: Short Stories the Form of the Future?

26 May, 6.30pm
The Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA

Join The Literary Consultancy as they celebrate the publication of Margaret Drabble’s volume of short stories, A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman. The novelist will be in conversation with Helen Simpson, the UK’s leading short-story practitioner. A reading from both will follow with a discussion addressing such questions as what can short stories do that novels can’t? Who are the best short story writers? And what’s going to happen to short stories presented on ipads, iphones and ereaders? An evening of debate, entertainment and revelation.

6.30-8.00pm (drinks available from 6pm). £10 entry. Book here.

A Literary Evening at the Sugar Lounge

Thursday 2 June, 7.30pm
145 Stroud Green Rd, London, N4
Admission FREE – No booking required

Come and meet the authors, hear them read, buy their books. Join Moris Farhi, Sue Gee, Jonathan Kemp, Deborah Levy and Eva Salzman as they read from their work.

The Sugar Lounge is a friendly café-bar-restaurant that serves Turkish food/drinks/cocktails.


Thursday 21 July, 6.30pm
The Centre for Life-Writing Research and the Graduate School, King’s College London

Fiona Shaw in conversation with Adam Phillips chaired by Lisa Appignanesi. Acting, like portraiture, can be a form of self-fashioning. The actress Fiona Shaw – who has played Electra, Medea, Hedda Gabler and Richard II amongst many other parts – believes herself to be formed by her roles. She is liberated by theatrical language, by ‘disguising yourself from yourself’. She also sees acting as a way of communicating the unconscious experience of the self. In this discussion Fiona Shaw will be joined by the psychoanalyst and author Adam Phillips. They will draw out the connections between acting and self-fashioning and reflect on acting and childhood play as transitional spaces in the formation of the self. The discussion will be chaired by Lisa Appignanesi, author of Mad, Bad and Sad, A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800. Visit the National Portrait Gallery’s website for further details.

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Registered offices: Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA, 020 7324 2535

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