April letter from John Ralston Saul, International President, to the PEN membership.


April letter from John Ralston Saul, International President, to the PEN membership.

Dear PEN members, Dear friends,

First a regret. Ethiopian PEN has just held its annual Congress. Last year I was able to be there for the first ever gathering which took place in uncertain circumstances. I am very sorry not to have been able to return this year. The situation in the country remains the same, the Centre, led by Solomon Hailemarian, is working hard to develop programs and Antonio Della Rocca from the International Board was there along with a group from Norwegian PEN led by their Anders Heger.

– – –

As a part of the lead up to the Reykjavik Congress, Eric Lax, Laura McVeigh and myself were in Iceland. I have been going to Reykjavik for years for different reasons. Each time I am struck in some fresh way by how literary the city is. Just for a start, Iceland has more writers and more readers per capita than anywhere else. For perhaps the first time, the Congress will be fully integrated into a major literary festival. And the Congress will be integrated into the city with the Delegates also playing their role as writers.

Sjón and his members are deeply committed and I believe the partnership with the Reykjavik International Literary Festival is a great model for the future.

Finally, we are all working hard to find support for as many delegates as possible.

One important thing to add is that during this Congress, we will solidify and begin to build our digital freedom of expression by expanding our use of the digital declaration.

– – –

A few days later we launched The PEN Report: Creativity and Constraint in Today’s China. This Report represents 5 years of work by PEN International, the Independent Chinese PEN Centre and the American PEN Centre. The result is a very different approach to the situation. It is on our website. Please read it and use it.

You will see that its approach to freedom of expression is fully integrated into our reality as writers and the reality of China as a great literary civilization.

We launched the Report from New York, close to the United Nations, with Salman Rushdie, Yu Jie, Chen Guangcheng, Marian Botsford Fraser and Peter Godwin. They all took part in a press conference which I chaired.

When you read it you will sense the frustration we all feel. The Chinese authorities do not need to damage their country’s reputation in this way. There is no honour in employing 20 to 50,000 internet police or imprisoning 40 writers or provoking constant incidents with writers. The result is clear: the writing community is becoming increasingly determined to serve the public good.

Best wishes to you all,

John Ralston Saul