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Board and Vice Presidents

Executive Board

The Board of PEN International is elected by PEN Centres. It consists of a group of individuals from across the globe committed to representing and championing the views of PEN International, who believe that our organisation can make a vital contribution to literature and freedom of expression.

Burhan Sönmez

International President

Burhan Sönmez

International President

Burhan Sönmez is an award winning Kurdish novelist and lawyer from Turkey. He was elected President of PEN International on the 24th of September 2021, during PEN International’s Centenary Congress.

Born in a small village in central Turkey, Sönmez grew up speaking Kurdish, at a time when the Kurdish language was stigmatised and officially banned in education. He moved to Istanbul to study law in the years following the 1980 military coup. Due to pro-democracy activities, he was suspended from university but managed to graduate after seven years. He worked as a lawyer in Istanbul, joining the Human Rights Society and founding TAKSAV, the Foundation for Social Research, Culture and Art. During this time he was wounded following an assault by the police, after which he went to exile in Britain where he received long-term treatment with the help of British organization Freedom from Torture.

Even though he was interested in poetry, in exile Sönmez turned his hand to writing novels. His interest in writing is rooted in the traditional stories he was brought up with. His unique experience of growing up in a remote village with no electricity, and having a talented storyteller for a mother, has provided inspiration and material for his writing.

Sönmez is the author of North (Kuzey, 2009), Sins & Innocents (Masumlar, 2011), Istanbul Istanbul (2015), Labyrinth (Labirent, 2018), and Stone and Shadow (Taş ve Gölge, 2021), which have been translated into more than forty languages.

He has translated the poetry book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake into Turkish, and has written for various papers including The Guardian, Der Spiegel, La Repubblica.

Sönmez is the recipient of the EBRD Literature Prize (2018), the Disturbing the Peace Award (2017), the BUYAZ Best Story Honour Prize (2015), the Sedat Simavi Literature Prize (2011), and the Izmir St. Joseph Best Novel Award (2011).

He was a member of the judging panel for the 2014 Cevdet Kudret Literature Prize and the 2020 Geneva International Film Festival, as well as lecturer in Literature and Novel at the University of METU.

Sönmez is a dual Turkish/British national. He lives between Istanbul and Cambridge.

Kätlin Kaldmaa

International Secretary

Kätlin Kaldmaa

International Secretary

Kätlin Kaldmaa is an Estonian poet, writer, translator and literary critic. She has published four collections of poetry, two books for children, an autobiographical work of non-fiction, and a novel. She has translated over 40 books into Estonian by authors such as Jeanette Winterson, Aphra Behn, Michael Ondaatje, Ali Smith, Goran Simić and Gabriel García Márquez. Her own poems have been translated into Arabic, English, Korean, Latin, Japanese, Russian, Slovenian, Turkish and others She is the President of Estonian PEN.

Eric Lax

Treasurer

Board Members

Iman Humaydan

Iman Humaydan

Iman Humaydan is a novelist, activist and founder of ARRAWI, a non-profit center for marginalized youth in Lebanon. Her novels B Mithl Beit, Mithl Beirut [B as in Beirut], Toot Barri [Wild Mulberries], Hayawat Okhra [Other Lives] and Khamsoun ghraman mena aljannah [Weight of Paradise] have been published in Arabic, French, German, English, Italian and Dutch. Her short stories, essays, and journalism have appeared in German, Swiss, French, and Arab newspapers and magazines. Humaydan co-wrote the screenplay for Chatti ya Deni [Here Comes The Rain], which won the first prize at the 2010 Dubai Film Festival, and the documentary film Asmahan, Une Diva Orientale, and edited the creative writing textbook Kitabat alkitabah (2010). She also edited Beirut Noir, which was published in 2015 by Akashic Books (NY). The writer serves as the co-founder of PEN Lebanon in 2012, and PEN Lebanon president since 2015. At present, Humaydan teaches creative writing in Paris 8 University in France.

Ola Larsmo

Ola Larsmo

Born in 1957, Ola Larsmo is a well-known, prolific Swedish novelist, essayist, and critic. He is the author of several acclaimed books, including: Engelska parken (1985), Odysséer 1990), Stumheten (1991), Himmel och jord må brinna (1993), Maroonberget (1996), net.wars (with Lars Ilshammar, 1993), Norra Vasa 133 (1999), Andra sidan (2001), En glänta i skogen (2004), Djävulssonaten (2007), Swede Hollow (2016) and Översten (2020).

Larsmo was editor of Bonniers Literary Magazine from 1984 to 1990 and a member of the board at Författarförbundet ("Authors association") until May 2003. He is currently columnist for Sweden's largest newspaper, Dagens Nyheter.

Larsmo received the Bjørnson Prize from the Norwegian Academy of Literature and Freedom of Expression and, after the publication of Swede Hollow, two prestigious Swedish awards: the Lagercrantz Critics' Prize from Dagens Nyheter and Natur & Kultur's cultural prize.

For almost two decades, Ola has been an active member of Swedish PEN, and under his presidency (2009-2017) the organization grew and stabilized. This he has taken with him to his current role as a board member of PEN International.

Regula Venske

Regula Venske

Born in 1955, Regula Venske is a scholar, novelist and essayist and president of German PEN. She is a distinguished German writer best known for her crime fiction, but she also writes experimental prose and literary criticism and once in a while comes up with a poem. She wrote a thesis on the “construction and criticism of masculinity in contemporary German-language literature by women” and received her Ph. D. in 1988. She taught German literature at Hamburg University, the Free University of Berlin and Queen Mary College, London, and is regularly teaching creative writing both in schools as well as for adults. Regula Venske received a number of literary awards, including the Oldenburg Jugendbuchpreis, the German Crime-Writing Award (Deutscher Krimipreis) and the Lessing Scholarship of the City of Hamburg. She has been a member of German PEN since 1998 and has been elected General Secretary in May 2013.For more information, please see www.regulavenske.de.

Danson Kahyana

Danson Kahyana

Danson Sylvester Kahyana (PhD) is a Senior Lecturer in the Literature Department at Makerere University. He holds a PhD in Literature (Stellenbosch University), MA (Literature), PGDE, and BA (Makerere University). He has published creative work in anthologies like Dance the Guns to Silence (2005), Michael’s Eyes: The War against the Ugandan Child (2005), We Have Crossed Many Rivers: New Poetry from Africa (2012), and Wondering and Wanderings of Hearts (2017), and a children’s novel, Biira’s Success (2009). He is editor, Fire on the Mountain: Creative Work on the Obuhikira (2018), and co-editor (with Beatrice Lamwaka and Bob G. Kisiki) of As I Stood Dead Before the World: Creative Writing from Luzira (2018) and (with Edgar Nabutanyi and Dominica Dipio) of Discourse and Identities: Writing and Contemporary Eastern African Peripheral Subjectivities (2019). His scholarly work has appeared in journals like Journal of African Cultural Studies, Alternation, Matatu, Social Dynamics, and Africa Development. He is President, PEN International, Uganda Centre. He has the African Humanities Program Postdoctoral Fellowship (2015-2016), the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship (2018-2019), and the British Institute in Eastern Africa Research grant (2019). He has also been nominated for the Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellowship (2020-2021).

David Francis

David Francis

David Francis, based in Los Angeles, spends part of each year back on his family’s farm in Australia. He is the author of The Great Inland Sea, published to acclaim in seven countries, and Stray Dog Winter, Book of the Year in The Advocate, winner of the American Library Association Barbara Gittings Prize for Literature and a LAMBDA Literary Award Finalist and Book of the Year in the Australian Literary Review. He has taught creative writing at University of California, Los Angeles, Occidental College and in the Masters of Professional Writing program at University of Southern California. His short fiction and articles have appeared in publications including Harvard ReviewThe Sydney Morning HeraldSouthern California ReviewBest Australian StoriesAustralian Love Stories, Los Angeles Times and The Rattling Wall. His book and film reviews have appeared in publications including Los Angeles Review of Books and The Advocate. Film rights to The Great Inland Sea and Stray Dog Winter have been optioned in France and the United States, respectively. His third novel Wedding Bush Road has was recently released in Australia by Brio and in the United States by Counterpoint Press. David is Co-chair of the Los Angeles Committee of PEN America, on the Board of Trustees of Pen International, and is also a lawyer. For more information go to www.davidfranciswriter.com.

Salil Tripathi

Salil Tripathi

Salil Tripathi was the Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International, 2015-2021. From 2009-2013 he was co-chair of the Writers at Risk Committee at English PEN.

Salil is an award-winning journalist and writer. He was born in India and has been a foreign correspondent in Singapore and Hong Kong and now lives in New York. He is contributing editor at the Caravan and a columnist for Mint in India. His articles have also appeared in major international newspapers and magazines, including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, Foreign Policy, New Statesman, Guardian, Independent, Far Eastern Economic Review, and many others.

His awards include the Citibank Pan Asia Economic Journalism Award in 1994, Bastiat Prize (third prize) in 2011, and Red Ink Award for Human Rights Journalism in 2015. His books include Offence: The Hindu Case (Seagull, 2009), The Colonel Who Would Not Repent: The Bangladesh War and its Unquiet Legacy (Aleph, 2014 and Yale University Press, 2016), and Detours: Songs of the Open Road (Tranquebar, 2015). He is currently working on a book about Gujaratis. His work has appeared in several anthologies.

In a parallel life, he is senior adviser, global issues, at the Institute for Human Rights and Business. More information about Salil’s writing can be found here.

Vice Presidents

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William Nygaard

William Nygaard

Born in Oslo in 1943, William Nygaard was elected Vice President of PEN International in 2021.

Currently a board member of the Sami publishing house, Davvi Girji, a member of the Norwegian Academy for Language and Literature, and chairman of the board of Visjoner Teater, Nygaard was head of the leading Norwegian publishing house, Aschehoug, from 1974 to 2010; chairman of the Norwegian Publishers Association from 1987 to 1990; chairman of the board of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, NRK, (the state-owned TV of Norway) from 2010 to 2014; and former board member of the state owned National Theater and National Museum of Art and the daily newspaper Dagbladet.

In 1989 Nygaard published the Norwegian edition of Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses. Following the fatwa against Rushdie and his publishers, direct threats were made against Nygaard, who was given police protection. On the morning of 11 October 1993, Nygaard was shot three times outside his home in Oslo. The incident is linked to the fatwa and is still under police investigation.

An outspoken defender of free speech, Nygaard is the former President (2013-2019) and former board member (since 2003) of Norwegian PEN.

Gabriel Seisdedos

Gabriel Seisdedos

Gabriel Seisdedos was elected Board Member of PEN International during the 87th PEN International Congress. Born in Buenos Aires in 1963, he is a translator and writer.

Seisdedos is the author of El honor de Dios. Mártires palotinos. La historia silenciada de un crimen impune (1996), Hasta los oídos de Dios: la historia del movimiento de sacerdotes para el tercer mundo (1999) and Un ángel en la botica, crónicas (2014), co-authored with Horacio Annecca. His latest book, La responsabilidad de la palabra. Nacimiento y apogeo del PEN Club de Buenos Aires 1930-1936, is soon to be published.

In 1997 Seisdedos produced and directed a documentary based on his book Hasta los oídos de Dios, which was released on American television. He is currently a researcher at the Historical Institute of the City Government and President of the PEN Argentina Center.

Ola Larsmo

Ola Larsmo

Born in 1957, Ola Larsmo is a well-known, prolific Swedish novelist, essayist, and critic. He is the author of several acclaimed books, including: Engelska parken (1985), Odysséer 1990), Stumheten (1991), Himmel och jord må brinna (1993), Maroonberget (1996), net.wars (with Lars Ilshammar, 1993), Norra Vasa 133 (1999), Andra sidan (2001), En glänta i skogen (2004), Djävulssonaten (2007), Swede Hollow (2016) and Översten (2020).

Larsmo was editor of Bonniers Literary Magazine from 1984 to 1990 and a member of the board at Författarförbundet ("Authors association") until May 2003. He is currently columnist for Sweden's largest newspaper, Dagens Nyheter.

Larsmo received the Bjørnson Prize from the Norwegian Academy of Literature and Freedom of Expression and, after the publication of Swede Hollow, two prestigious Swedish awards: the Lagercrantz Critics' Prize from Dagens Nyheter and Natur & Kultur's cultural prize.

For almost two decades, Ola has been an active member of Swedish PEN, and under his presidency (2009-2017) the organization grew and stabilized. This he has taken with him to his current role as a board member of PEN International.

Svetlana Alexievich

Vice President

J. M. Coetzee

Vice President

Orhan Pamuk

Vice President

Margaret Atwood

Vice President

Niels E. Barford

Vice President

Sook-Hee Chun

Vice President

Kata Kulavkova

Vice President

Lucina Kathmann

Vice President

Eric Lax

Vice President

Joanne Leedom-Ackermann

Vice President

Predrag Matvejevic

Vice President

Boris A. Novak

Vice President

Michael Scammell

Vice President

Eugene Schoulgin

Vice President

Vida Ognjenovic

Vice President

Hori Takeaki

Vice President

Franca Tiberto

Vice President

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

Vice President

Perumal Murugan

Vice President

Nayantara Sahgal

Vice President

Elena Poniatowska

Vice President

Luisa Valenzuela

Vice President

Frankie Sionil Jose

Vice President