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81st Congress: Quebec

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The 81st PEN International Congress in Quebec


Translation = Creation = Freedom

Record participation:

272 participants

84 PEN centres

73 countries

51 % women

49 % men

10 literary events produced in collaboration with the Quebec en toutes lettres festival

2134 people attended these events

A team of 7 people organised the Congress

with the help of 41 volunteers during the week of the Congress

A place of sharing and listening, a message of peace

For the 81st PEN International Congress in Quebec, PEN was pleased to partner with the Québec en toutes lettres literary festival. This fruitful collaboration resulted in a wonderful combination of literary events with public discussions around issues of freedom of expression, translation and other PEN International campaigns. Congress delegates were joined by local writers to present a wide variety of activities to PEN members and to a broader audience of Quebec residents.

Quebec Declaration on Literary Translation

The theme of the 81st PEN International Congress was translation=creation=freedom. The “Québec Declaration on Literary Translation and Translators” was adopted by the Assembly of Delegates at the Congress and will continue to serve within translation associations worldwide as a landmark statement on the translator’s art and profession.

84 PEN centres were present at Congress

Of these 84 centres, 19 were invited (Argentina, Bolivia, Bosnia, Cambodia, Chili, Nicaragua, Delhi, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Honduras, Kenya, Kirghizstan, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Myanmar, Nigeria, San Miguel de Allende).

14 renowned writers were invited to participate and host different events

Antón Arrufat, Margaret Atwood, Joséphine Bacon, Russell Banks, Joseph Boyden, Julio César Rivas, Jung Chang, Chris Hedges, Dany Laferrière, Robert Lepage, Jean-François Lépine, Yann Martel et Louis-Karl Picard-Sioui.


Opening ceremony

The opening evening of the 81st PEN International Congress honoured the First Nations with a performance by poet Joséphine Bacon and a round table discussion with Joseph Boyden, Louis-Karl Picard-Sioui and host John Ralston Saul.

Chinese Literature in Focus

Five Chinese authors and poets who live in the four corners of the world met at this exceptional round table on Chinese literature. With Jung Chang (author of Wild Swans and a biography of Mao Zedong), Bei Ling, Xue Di, Meng Lang and Sheng Xue.

Free to Create

Major figures on the contemporary literary and theatre scenes, Margaret Atwood, Russell Banks and Robert Lepage exchanged views on the freedom to create. This unique meeting addressed their respective works and the different paths their writing careers have taken, with discussion covering  their work methods, links between fiction and reality, the social role of writers, freedom of expression, and relationships between page, stage and screen. During the evening, Yann Martel announced that Rebecca F. John (Wales PEN Cymru) was the winner of the 2015 PEN International/New Voices Award.

Free to Speak

The Charlie Hebdo murders, the convicting of Raif Badawi – freedom of expression is at the forefront of the news. Battle-hardened journalists Jean-François Lépine, author of Sur la ligne de feu (Libre expression, 2014), Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and Julio César Rivas, reporter for the EFE press agency, shared their thoughts on this fundamental issue. Hosted by Adrienne Clarkson.

The Tower of Babel in Québec City: an evening of multilingual readings

At three different locations around the city, authors taking part in the 81st PEN International Congress read excerpts of their work in French, English and Spanish, as well a dozen other languages. The readings were punctuated by musical improvisations as part of a fantastic and festive evening celebrating world literature.

Empty chair event

Monuments were raised on the Place d’Youville to three writers who have been  imprisoned, persecuted or killed. Each morning during the Congress, participants were invited to observe a minute’s silence to pay tribute to these authors.

Also, from September 1 to October 18, the public was invited to pay tribute to writers whose rights have been violated in seven countries where freedom of expression is denied. Eight libraries hosted  installations at the centre of which was an empty chair that evoked the journey of an author who became a victim of censorship or imprisonment: Raif Badawi, Nawal El Saadawi, Taslima Nasreen, Bui Ngoc Tan, Aung San Suu Kyi, Liu Xiaobo, Liao Yiwu and Spôjmaï Zariâb.

Presented in collaboration with the Bibliothèque de Québec, the Festival Québec en toutes lettres, the Union des écrivaines et des écrivains québécois and Amnesty International.