Home Page > Uncategorized > Message to members of PEN International, From Executive Director, Laura McVeigh.

05 March 2012

Dear Friends,

Centre Visits and Congress

Over recent weeks I have been fortunate to visit several PEN Centres and gain some first hand insight into both the fantastic work underway and also to understand better the many challenges Centres can face. I am so impressed by all that you each do as part of PEN. With your help we would like to compile a PEN Centre Handbook to share some of the best practice – a practical guide for Centres with ideas on strengthening your Centre, how to access funding and ways to connect to PEN’s international work and with other PEN Centres. The guide will showcase examples from across the membership of successful initiatives and will reflect the voices of the PEN members. We’ll launch this at Congress and distribute it to all PEN Centres later in the year. I welcome your ideas and suggestions for inclusion.

In the last month I had the opportunity to meet with Irish PEN and to join them for their Annual Awards Dinner at which the Irish President Michael D.Higgins gave an eloquent speech on freedom of expression, PEN, the importance of writers and their contribution to the social fabric of a nation. Writer Joseph O’Connor received the prestigious award and speech notes from the evening are available on the Irish Pen website at www.irishpen.com The Centre has an enthusiastic and engaged committee and it is excellent to see the work and membership of the centre growing.

Following the visit to Ireland, I joined Board Member Markéta Hejkalová, International Secretary Hori Takeaki and PEN International President John Ralston Saul in Korea for a Congress planning visit with Korean PEN. We worked together on developing the format and schedule for Congress taking into account member feedback and requests for changes to the Congress format. This year, as we celebrate 90 years of PEN International, there will be keynote speeches from Nobel Laureates Wole Soyinka, Orhan Pamuk and Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio. There will be sessions for network meetings, training seminars on fundraising, centre development and connecting to PEN’s international work alongside a vibrant literary and cultural programme. Korean PEN will be writing shortly to all Centres with full registration details for the Congress. We will also be posting the latest Congress information online on the PEN International website: www.pen-international.org

This week I also met with PEN Vlaanderen. It is inspirational to see the Centre thriving with strong leadership, a dynamic committee and excellent strategic plan and activity programme for the year ahead. See more at http://www.penvlaanderen.be Also this month PEN President John Ralston Saul is meeting with PEN Centres in Ethiopia and Djibouti, and International Programmes Director Frank Geary will be visiting Russian PEN.

I would like to thank each of the Centres for the wonderful warm welcome extended – thank you. This month we are also welcoming visitors from PEN American Center and Norwegian PEN and writers from Iraq, Pakistan and Kashmir to the International Secretariat. So please do let us know if you are in London, call in and see us, tell us about PEN in your country and think of the International Secretariat as a PEN home from home!

New Centres and Supporting Writers worldwide

I know many of you are working with writers in other countries to support writing and foster connections with PEN. Some wonderful examples to share include the work of South African PEN connecting with writers in Botswana, Mauritius and Namibia; Jordanian PEN encouraging Kuwaiti participation; Pen Vlaanderen working with Congolese writers; Korean PEN supporting North Korean writers; and discussions underway with writers in Lebanon. This fostering of community, connection and mutual respect is at the heart of PEN. If you are encouraging writers to consider setting up a new PEN Centre please do contact Frank Geary frank.geary@pen-international.org for details, guidance and support.

International Women’s Day – 8 March

To celebrate International Women’s Day, PEN International is launching several initiatives. Sara Whyatt will be sending details to all Centres and see also the website and @pen_int on Twitter for details of how to get involved. Thanks to everyone already participating.

Governance and office matters

The next PEN International Board meeting takes place on March 27th. Just a reminder, that the Governance sub-committee, led by PEN International Treasurer Eric Lax, would welcome your suggestions and input in the coming months as they prepare a report and recommendations for the Assembly of Delegates at Congress this year.

We welcome two new interns to the International office – Katriina Lepanjuuri, who brings Finnish, Spanish and Russian language skills, and Alev Yamman, who brings Turkish language skills – both are volunteering with the WiPC over the coming months. We are also exploring new ways of working – developing field work in the Middle East with Ghias Aljundi who is focusing on Tunisia, Bahrain and Egypt – and working closely with Ford Foundation Fellow Deji Olukoton on outreach to Haitian PEN.

This month we launched a new membership communication – the PEN International weekly round-up – this email will be sent to all Centres each week and links to the week’s news, events, Rapid Action Network Alerts and developments at PEN International. We hope you enjoy it and can pass it on to your members to share PEN’s news more widely.

Literary news

We are delighted to announce that plans are underway for a Free the Word! festival in Haiti in April. Details will soon be posted on the website. We are also planning a Free the Word! festival day in London for later in the summer. There will be a poetry Anthology created as part of this year’s Congress and delegates will be asked to submit a poem for inclusion. Work is also well underway on a Tunisian Anthology of new writing – this exciting project is being coordinated by Ghias Aljundi and is in partnership with Index on Censorship and IFEX. Work is also underway on a new PEN International literary website which will launch before Congress.

Please share your news with us at info@pen-international.org or if you have PEN news to share on the website contact Ruth at penoffice@pen-international.org

All best wishes,

Laura Mc Veigh,

Executive Director