14 October 2015
Quebec City – PEN International, the worldwide association of writers, today launched its Writers Circle and Readers Circle during the 81st PEN Congress in Quebec, inviting writers and readers from around the world to support PEN’s work in promoting literature and defending freedom of expression. Current members of the Writers Circle include Jirō Asada, Margaret Atwood, Arthur Golden, David Lagercrantz, Eric Lax, Geert Mak, Yann Martel, Sofi Oksanen, John Ralston Saul, Judith Rodriguez, Salman Rushdie, Bernhard Schlink, Colm Tóibín, Alexander McCall Smith, Elif Shafak, Hanan Al-Shaykh, Ian Rankin, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Robert Cottrell and Vida Ognjenović.
‘The writer and the reader are locked in an intimate relationship. Literature is about writing, but equally about reading. Free expression means being able to speak out. But it equally means being allowed to listen.’ - PEN International President & Writers Circle member, John Ralston Saul.
‘In a world besieged with violence, bigotry, sectarianism and fear of the Other, our need for PEN and the universal values it stands for is bigger than ever before today. Many years ago PEN followed my case and extended its support when I was put on trial for insulting Turkishness in a novel. I have seen first hand how significant and valuable it was to feel PEN's support by my side, intellectually and psychologically, and I have never forgotten it. Though solitary creatures we writers might be in our hearts, there are moments when being lonely is the last thing we want. As humanity retreats into mental ghettoes and cultural divisions, it is extremely important that writers, poets, intellectuals connect across borders to promote literature, the love of books, freedom of speech and free circulation of ideas and stories. We have entered a turbulent period in world history in which storytellers, East and West, need to speak louder, bolder.’ – Elif Shafak, PEN International Writers Circle member.
‘Freedom of expression is like breathing: deny it, and you suffocate. This is why I have pledged my support to PEN International’s new Writers Circle, an initiative to strengthen solidarity among writers and freedom of expression around the world. I hope other writers will join me in this new and worthwhile venture.’ - Hanan al-Shaykh, PEN International Writers Circle member.
Following the launch of its Publishers Circle in 2011, support for the new Circles will allow PEN to better respond to the increasing threats faced by writers across the globe.
‘Everyone who writes will sooner or later run up against the limit of what cannot, shall not, should not or must not be written, and almost everyone will simply shy away and refrain from writing it. This is the case because the invisible wall stands there, not as an obstacle to something good, something desirable which we deny ourselves, but to the opposite: The invisible wall stands between us and … everything we don’t want to see, everything we don´t want to acknowledge.’ - Karl Ove Knausgaard. PEN International Writers Circle member.
The third PEN International/New Voices Award, sponsored by PEN’s Publishers Circle, was presented to young Welsh writer Rebecca F. John by Yann Martel, following a Free the Word! event with Margaret Atwood, Russell Banks and Robert Lepage.
Rebecca F. John is from Pwll, a small village on the South Wales coast. She holds a BA in English with Creative Writing and an MA in Creative Writing from Swansea University. Her stories have been shortlisted for the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Rebecca lives in Swansea and works as a ski instructor and English tutor.
PEN International would like to thank finalists Sophie Prévost and Lea Sauer the winner Rebecca F. John and their nominating PEN Centres.
‘Each of these stories cleared for me that pane of fogged-up glass through which we all gaze out upon the world, and I was thus able to view them with incredible clarity, fully, and in all of their dimensions. Reading them reaffirmed my conviction that writing is a unique form of communication, simultaneously collective and infinitely intimate.’ -Olga Tokarczuk, 2015 New Voices judge.
‘We are nothing without stories. A century without stories, without its writers, is a forgotten century, one accessible only to forensic historians and archaeologists. And so we need at each generation our allotment of writers who will start building that mirror of ourselves without which we see nothing, understand nothing. Hence the importance of the PEN International New Voices Award’ – Yann Martel.
The PEN International/New Voices Award encourages new writing from countries in which PEN operates and provides a much-needed space for young and unpublished writers.
For more information on the Circles and the PEN International New Voices contact: Literary Manager James Tennant at PEN International firstname.lastname@example.org +0044 784540515.