Message to the Members of PEN, Laura McVeigh

Dear Friends,

It has been wonderful to see so many of you over the recent weeks – first in Bled, at the PEN International Board meeting and the Writers for Peace conference, and then in Krakow at the Writers in Prison Committee conference, where I also had the opportunity to speak with many of our ICORN colleagues.

These times when we can meet in person are so helpful in understanding PEN and the ways in which we can best work together. We were also able to introduce some of the staff from the international secretariat at these events and I hope that too has been helpful in putting faces to names. An up-to-date list for the team can be found at:

We were able to share and present some of the recent pieces of PEN International’s work at both events – including the ‘Write Against Impunity’ anthology, the recent China Report, and an update on our digital freedom work. My thanks to all PEN centres involved in these projects. The China Report launched in the World Voices Festival in New York was accompanied by an Open Letter signed by over 150 leading writers and artists and the report received wide coverage in the international media.

Particular highlights of the Writers for Peace meeting included a fruitful discussion on the role of PEN and the future, and roundtable sessions on the writer in relation to peace. It was good to have all four committee Chairs taking part along with many members of the International Board. Our thanks to Slovene PEN for their warm welcome. In Krakow, we had the opportunity to take part in a vibrant programme of workshops and presentations on topics including digital security, publishing and translation in a globalised world, the Horn of Africa, Freedom of Expression in the Arab Spring and a series of fascinating Frontline Reports. Our thanks to our partners Polish PEN, ICORN and the Milosz Literary Festival.

These meetings show the value of time together to share ideas and learning.

I look forward to seeing many of you later this year in Reykjavik, Iceland. We had Sigurdur Pálsson, Board member of PEN Iceland, join us at the PEN International Board meeting in Slovenia and he shared news of the Congress planning and activities with PEN members there. This year’s Congress will include readings by delegates in a series of venues around the city, a partnership with the wonderful Reykjavik Literature Festival and a series of Free the Word! events on Digital Freedom, Linguistic Rights and the New Voices Award amongst many others. You can register and find out more here:

May is a busy month with Free the Word! activity including participation at Hay Beirut ( and Hay-on-Wye festival in Wales. In Beirut, PEN Lebanon led a fantastic programme of events covering censorship and publishing, women’s participation in the Arab uprising and exploring the role of the writer in divided societies and writers from PEN Jordan and PEN Egypt took part. Now, this week we take part in Hay-on-Wye in Wales with a series of PEN International and English PEN events taking place. One of the festival highlights will be the Raymond Williams Lecture given this year by Elif Shafak in association with PEN International and President John Ralston Saul will introduce the lecture.

In latest staff news, Cathal Sheerin – who many of you will know already – joins the team once more – this time as Europe Researcher within the Writers in Prison Committee team. And we are delighted to officially welcome Ann Harrison as the incoming WiPC Programme Director. Ann starts on 10 June and will be in touch with all members soon afterwards. We also welcome back Jena Patel who is coordinating the Congress planning in the run up to this year’s event.

My thanks to all PEN Centres sending in news to share on the website and newsletter – it is good to be able to share your news amongst all PEN Centres and more widely. Please do continue to send your latest news to Sahar Halaimzai (

All the best,

Laura McVeigh

Executive Director