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2015 Québec: Translation = Creation = Freedom

PEN Congress Québec

The 81st PEN International Congress in Québec in figures and facts:

  • 272 participants
  • 84 PEN centres
  • 73 countries
  • 51 % women
  • 49 % men
  • 10 literary events produced in collaboration with the Québec en toutes lettres festival
  • 2134 people attended these events
  • A team of 7 people organised the Congress
  • Along with the help of 41 volunteers during the week of the Congress


Translation = Creation = Freedom

For the 81st PEN International Congress in Québec, PEN Québec partnered with the Québec en toutes lettres literary festival. The collaboration resulted in a combination of literary events with public discussions around issues of freedom of expression, translation and writing in your mother language. PEN delegates were joined by local writers to present a diverse programme of events to PEN members and Québec residents. This included 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 and Louis-Karl Picard-Sioui.

Québec 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, and focuses on the importance of translation in promoting values of openness, freedom, dialogue and exchange.


Opening ceremony

The opening evening of the PEN 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. This created discussions 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

Following the Charlie Hebdo murders and the conviction 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 different locations around the city, authors taking part in the PEN Congress read excerpts of their work in French, English and Spanish, as well as 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

As part of PEN's tradition of using the Empty Chair at events  to symbolise a writer who could not be present because they were imprisoned, detained, disappeared, threatened or killed, monuments were raised on the Place d’Youville. Each morning during the Congress, participants were invited to observe a minute’s silence to pay tribute to these authors.

Members of the public were also 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, this 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.

The Congress was 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.

Click here to access the PEN International Post Congress Report.