PEN International held its 87th Centenary Congress, from 20‒24 September 2021. Themed One Hundred Years of Intellectual Debate and Activism on Freedom of Expression and Literature, it celebrated the organization’s first 100-year anniversary.
Central to the five days long programme was the election of award-winning Turkish Kurdish novelist and human rights lawyer Burhan Sonmez as President of PEN International. Mexican-American writer Jennifer Clement, the first woman President to lead the organization, leaves the post of President after six years, with the heartfelt thanks of the entire PEN community from across the globe. Jennifer Clement opened the Congress with a welcome speech, which can be viewed here.
Congress highlights included an exploration of ‘Against Hate’, a conversation about free speech and hate speech between writers Salman Rushdie and Carolin Emcke, as well as discussions and testimonies from writers, human rights activists and former PEN’s cases: Margaret Atwood, J.M. Coetzee, Can Dündar, Omar El Akkad, Tienchi Martin-Liao, Enoh Meyomesse, Boris Novak, Orhan Pamuk, Philippe Sands, Eugene Schoulgin, Dareen Tatour, Ma Thida and Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. The programme also featured speeches from former PEN International Presidents Homero Aridjis, John Ralston Saul and Per Wästberg.
PEN also adopted four resolutions on the critical situations in Belarus, Israel and the OPT, Myanmar and Nicaragua and welcomed PEN Malta and PEN Quechua to the PEN family, bringing the total number of PEN Centres representing writers across the world to 145.
Other key moments included the election of William Nygaard as Vice President of PEN International, the re-election of Ola Larsmo and the election of Gabriel Seisdedos and Salil Tripathi as Board Members, as well as the election of Ma Thida as Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee.
Finally, to celebrate its 100 years, the PEN Centenary Book, An Illustrated History, was launched. Published in nine languages to date, with more than 500 photographs, letters, documents, posters and maps, An Illustrated History presents the organisation’s journey and work on the promotion of literature and protection of freedom of expression since its foundation in 1921. It is available for purchase from the PEN International’s website. For more information about An Illustrated History, see our video here.
Notes to editors: