One hundred years ago, Catharine Amy Dawson-Scott, a British poet, playwright and peace activist, founded PEN (an acronym for Poets, Essayists, and Novelists) as a way to unite writers after the devastation of World War One.
At first it was nothing more than a London dinner club, providing a space for writers to share ideas and socialize. But even then, PEN’s first president, John Galsworthy, could envision an international movement, something like a “League of Nations for men and women of letters,” he said.
Today, as PEN International, PEN is still going strong, operating in 115 countries, celebrating literature and defending free speech around the globe. From opposing book-burning and the persecution of writers in Nazi Germany, to supporting imprisoned writers across the world today, PEN has worked tirelessly to safeguard against censorship and self-censorship.
To mark its centenary, PEN International has published a big, beautiful, coffee-table-style book titled PEN International: An Illustrated History, co-authored by six outstanding writers and designed by designers from the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
PEN International: An Illustrated History follows PEN’s journey and work on the promotion of literature and the protection of freedom of expression over the last century. Published in nine languages to date, with more than 300 pages, 500 documents, including photographs, letters, posters and maps, the book celebrates writers, members, supporters and all those who, since its founding in 1921, have spoken truth to power and urged governments to uphold the right to freedom of expression.
One of the book’s authors is acclaimed writer Jennifer Clement, author of such highly regarded novels as Prayers for the Stolen and Gun Love, who lives here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and who served as president of PEN Mexico from 2009 to 2012. She was also the first woman to be elected president of PEN International.
On Wednesday afternoon of this week Jennifer was scheduled to give a presentation — outdoors, on the patio of the Biblioteca Pública here in SMA — about the new book and San Miguel’s own PEN chapter; but due to a family issue she was unable to attend. So Lucina Kathmann, vice president of PEN International and treasurer of San Miguel PEN, filled in for her, and author Victor Sahuatoba shared the platform:
Nobel Prizewinning author Toni Morrison said of PEN International, “My respect for this organization has no borders. PEN has been so fierce, so consistent and ferocious in its efforts that it is hard to ignore their worldwide impact.”
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- For more information about San Miguel PEN, go to: sanmiguelpen.com .
- For more about PEN International, visit: pen-international.org .
- To order a copy of PEN International: An Illustrated History, go to the PEN International website (above) or amazon.com.