November 27, 2020

International PEN

The logo of International PEN

The international logo for PEN (see above) unites three initials: P for poets & play writers, E for essayists & editors and N for novelists and non-fiction authors. International PEN is a world association of writers, founded just after the Great War in 1921, in London, by Mrs. C. A. Dawson Scott, a writer and active feminist. She wished to bring together authors of different nations to uphold the liberty of expression and favor good will and respect between people. Her idea succeeded probably beyond what she had ever imagined; in 2010 there are 145 centers through out the world with more than 15,000 members.

With time, several committees developed within PEN, focusing on particular problems that confronted writers. Writers for Peace and Writers in Prison are two important areas that concern many writers, as well as translation and linguistic rights, writers in exile, an emergency fund to help imprisoned writers’ families, and women writers’ specific topics. I will offer only one statistic that explains much of PEN’s work: according to the International Federation of Journalists, 137 journalists and media workers were killed in thirty-six countries in 2009.

.Mrs C. Dawson Scott

Mrs. C. A. Dawson Scott, founder of International PEN.

So why am I a member? First of all, I am grateful for the liberty to say and write what I think. By participating in PEN I am publicly committed to help writers who do not have these fundamental rights. Second, I believe in the power of words – many times I have seen one person’s words change a situation. Why else are leaders or governments so concerned when it comes to keeping journalists in control, surveying websites and emails, engaging communication experts for their own interests?

My third reason is the difficulty in learning how to connect with others while keeping an open mind and a respectful attitude. Good writers speak their minds and no mind is the same as another. Ever since PEN was founded the intrusion of politics has been a source of debate. The centers try to respect one another’s autonomy of judgment, just as members of each center do the same with each other. Unfortunately, like religion, politics often mean passion and PEN is a perfect place for intellectuals to learn to listen and receive the other’s argument without offense.

In PEN Centre Swiss Romand, founded in 1944, I have learned a great deal about tolerance. Many foreigners are established in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, especially around the Lake Geneva area and many, who are writers and/or journalists, belong to PEN. Therefore the PEN Centre Swiss Romand  is an active beehive because these members have often been out front where oppression and violence occur. In meetings, these strong-minded people can clash like Titans and it is not always easy to follow their line of thought.

But their work is magnificent. Five members are engaged actively in Writers In Prison and/or Writers For Peace. Fawzia Assaad is International PEN’s delegate at the United Nations’ Human Rights Conseil, Hoang Nguyen Bao Viet follows writers’ problems in Vietnam and Mynmar, and Dinah Lee Küng does the same for China. Mavis Guignard faithfully produces a quarterly news bulletin on the Writers In Prison committee’s work and other news. One member, Susan Tiberghien, founded the Geneva Writers’ Group with active members from over thirty countries and there are others, each committed to International PEN’s ideals.

I am proud to be a member of PEN Centre Swiss Romand and I salute my fellow members in this simple blog for all the time and energy they offer so that other writers may enjoy one of our fundamental rights – freedom of expression.


  1. Congratulations! A very good page on your website!

  2. Penelope says:

    Thanks Jo Ann for the timely reminder of the privileges we still enjoy in NZ and Switzerland, writing and saying what we will.

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