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The international writers' organisation

‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN 1948

What is PEN?

The aims of International PEN are to:

  1. Promote intellectual co-operation and understanding amongst writers.
  2. Create a world community of writers that would emphasise the central role of literature in the development of world culture.
  3. Defend literature against the many threats to its survival which the modern world poses.

The organisation believes that Literature knows no frontiers. Freedom of Expression – and its preservation throughout the world - is at the heart of the PEN mission.

A brief history

International PEN is the only worldwide association of writers. Founded in London in 1921, its first president was John Galsworthy and early members included Joseph Conrad, George Bernard Shaw and H G Wells. The organisation has always worked for international understanding and peace and by 1926 it had grown so rapidly that writers from fifteen nations were represented when they met in Berlin.

It was in 1933 that the Burning of the Books and the treatment of intellectuals by Hitler’s regime brought about the expulsion of the German Centre. As the Manchester Guardian wrote at the time: ‘this year the PEN has entered upon a new phase. The gracious, astute, steadying presidency of John Galsworthy has given place to the highly stimulating but more provocative presidency of H G Wells.’ In its support of writers being persecuted for political reasons, PEN has never looked back.

The organisation continued to grow and, when Wells resigned in 1936, the tradition of the President of English PEN acting also as International President came to an end. Complete separation of International PEN from its English parent was only achieved in the late 1970s and English PEN is now just one of the national centres, although a particularly lively and well-supported one.

Some famous campaigns

In 1937 Arthur Koestler, in Spain on behalf of the News Chronicle, was arrested in Malaga and condemned to death. PEN’s efforts were instrumental in getting him freed.

Wartime London was full of PEN centres in exile, with English PEN doing what it could to support them. Rumours about the Nazi treatment of the Jews made their way to London. It was not until 1944 that the news of 100,000 Hungarian Jews deported and murdered arrived in London; at the time no-one believed that such an act was possible.

Today PEN has 130 centres in 100 countries. Membership is open to all published writers and others who wish to support PEN can join as Friends.

English PEN

English PEN is a thriving organisation, supporting writers through the activities of its committees. Its crusades on behalf of writers who are being persecuted for speaking out are still needed as much as ever.

The Writers in Prison Committee was formed in 1960. It has done effective work ever since on behalf of writers from all over the world who have been imprisoned. The committee ensures that any breach of Article 19 is brought to the attention of governments, the press and writers around the world, who use their influence on behalf of the writers.

The Writers in Exile Committee works with other organisations to support exiled and émigré communities and to provide work for professional writers in exile.

The Readers and Writers Programme, a relatively new initiative, takes authors and their books into socially deprived areas to encourage creativity and reading.

Other committees work to support writers in getting heard outside their own native language and work for dialogue and peaceful coexistence between writers and intellectuals in different areas of conflict.


English PEN also organises regular events throughout the year involving distinguished writers, including their Masterclasses from the London Book Fair, which WritersServices have reported on in 2004 and 2003.  There are also two annual parties for members.

Find out more from English PEN’s website at:


English PEN’s website:

To join English PEN:

International PEN: has contact information and links to all the 130 PEN centres around the world.