PEN International’s Make Space campaign aims to create opportunities for writers who have experienced forced displacement or are living in exile. We’ll be doing this through publications, events, advocacy, community organising, and digital action. Through this work, we hope to generate better cross-cultural understanding and an interrogation of what it is to host displaced communities in resettlement settings; challenge stereotypes around exile and asylum; and redress a societal imbalance that too often means writers who have experienced displacement face marginalisation or discrimination.
We’re working to change a context in which displaced writers worldwide do not have the same opportunities to contribute to, participate in, or access global literatures, media-driven narrative, or public discourse. We hope that by working to change this context, the creative professionals, writing, and cultures, of displaced communities will have more space to flourish and self-express across professional and social spheres.
We acknowledge that the context we’re trying to change is multi-faceted and complex – and not limited to literary, cultural, or journalistic spaces - and that many members of displaced communities lack very basic needs like security and shelter. Addressing the human rights violations and extreme injustice faced by displaced communities will be a central part of ‘making space’. When it comes to policy makers, we will be trying to bring about legal change, for example maki ng resettlement easier and safer. We’ll also be trying to activate the general public to play their part, whether it’s by advocating for the rights of displaced people, or by challenging socio-political injustice like racism and xenophobia in resettlement situations.
Luckily, we think storytelling and cultural currency are incredibly powerful tools when it comes to influencing hearts and minds. Therefore, by creating opportunities for displaced writers to be read, heard, and in conversation with those who haven’t experienced displacement, we not only create a fairer context in which displaced writers face less unjust marginalisation, but we also activate those who haven’t experienced displacement into making, sharing, and holding space better, as well as joining us in lobbying for policy change.
As an organisation, a large portion of our membership is made up of displaced writers who have been forced to resettle because of threats associated with their professional work. These members sit within a broader global displacement crisis, in which 1 in 113 people worldwide have been forced to leave their homes. This movement of people is not new, but never before have we experienced it at this kind of rate, and never before have the stakes been so high. In host communities all over the world, xenophobia and social division are rising rapidly, in sync with a global increase in populism and nationalism. PEN International is explicitly anti-racist, and our Charter - which governs all our activity and campaigning - necessitates members to be proactive in creating equity, acceptance, tolerance, and inclusion: celebrating cultural diversity rather than homogenisation. What’s more, PEN has a long history of working with refugees and challenging facism. You can read more about this work on our blog.
Our Centres - 150 writer-led hubs around the world, campaigning for free expression, promoting literature, and engaging with local communities to promote cross-cultural understanding and inclusion. Find your nearest centre here, and use our Centres page to find out what some of our centres have been doing with writers and communities who have experienced displacement, and with writers living in exile.
Our Members - PEN International was established by writers for writers. Click here to read our writers’ statement on why this campaign matters. Check out our featured writers in our online bookshelf and on our blog. We also have members in our community who don’t write, but are publishers, readers, and lovers of literature. All of our members, and the centres they belong to, are driving this campaign.
You - There are so many ways you can be involved, and we hope you will be. Sign our launch statement right now, and please consider donating to help fund our campaign’s core missions. Buy a book by one of the writers we’re working with, or get in touch for a Make Space bookshop pack and get your local bookshop involved.
There are things we can change in the communities around us, and ways we can challenge how we look and think about things in our society. But policy makers need to be held accountable too, for their continued failure to uphold the human rights of those who have experienced displacement around the world. In the coming months, keep your eyes on ourblog for advocacy tools with local and regional focuses, shining a light on how to counter the grossest human rights violations relating to the Make Space campaign where you live. We’ll be exploring issues ranging from immigrant detention to linguistic rights, border control, and legal status. We’ll also be busy trying to bring about policy change in three areas that sit firmly within our expertise as a freedom of expression organisation made up of writers and culture-makers. We aim to:
- Demand legislation that necessitates inclusive cultural projects and spaces as part of sustainable resettlement for displaced communities.
- Demand nuance in the understanding and protection of displaced communities’ linguistic rights.
- Demand more efficient visa systems for writers at risk, and increased Protection mechanisms for at risk journalists.
Publications & Events
Keep your eyes peeled on our Twitter and Instagram for the latest news on Make Spacepublications, and print opportunities for writers who have experienced displacement. Ourblog also has news of upcoming Make Space events, which will form part of PEN’s FreeTheWord series.
PEN International is a membership organisation, led by 150 centres around the world, each one a community in which change can happen and great writing gets made. Our Make Spaceprojects will see this campaign working with local communities to change the way we think about home, asylum, exile, and welcome.
Sign our launch statement now, and keep your eyes peeled for our online petitions and campaigns. Donate here and be part of making this vital work happen. Thank you so much for your support; we couldn’t do any of it without you!