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


Dear PEN members, Dear friends,

October is Frankfurt Book Fair. PEN International’s relationship with the Fair continues to grow. The opening session of the Weltempfang was given to our Publishers Circle, with Ronald Blunden, Anders Heger, Ola Wallin and myself in conversation with publishers emerging in difficult situations. This included Babar Maqbool from Pakistan and Gustavo Faraon from Brazil. They were part of Frankfurt’s Invitation Program and most of the invited emerging publishers spoke at our session, including those from Ethiopia, Burma and the Congo.

The idea was to work out how established publishers might be able to advise new comers. In all of this we worked with Juergen Boos, Director of the Fair, and Tobias Voss, their Vice-President of international programs.

What I found particularly exciting about the participation of these new publishers was that our Ethiopian PEN Centre is growing and we are hoping to have a Centre in Burma.

Laura McVeigh was with me and we had a number of meetings with publishers who might join the Circle. Ibrahim El Moallem confirmed that the Shorouk Group, based in Cairo, will become a member. He is the chairman and founder of Shorouk Group and was a member of The Council of Wise Men which played such an important role during the recent revolution in Cairo.

With the support of Herbert Wiesner of PEN Zentrum Deutchland, we also spent time with a number of German Publishers.

The preparations for our Delegation to Turkey are almost in place. Sara Whyatt has been taking the lead on this. It will involve a lot of writers. As many as 20. This may be the largest PEN Delegation ever to go to a country. People are very concerned about the situation there.

As with the Mexican Delegation, the full executive will take part – Hori Takeaki, Eric Lax, and myself – as well as Haroon Siddiqui from the International Board, Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of the Writers in prison Committee, Eugene Schoulgin, International Vice-President and a number of PEN Centre Presidents, including of course, Tarik Günersel of PEN Turkey.

As in Mexico, we will have a major public event, take part in the Istanbul Book Fair and call on political leaders.

Finally, have a look at our Latin American Impunity Campaign. It has a section of its own on the website. More and more writers from the region are becoming involved. Their feeling is that there are growing pressures on free expression – including increasingly wide-spread violence – and we need to step up our defence of it.

Some of the threats are highly political. Inside the OAS there are governments working to strip the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Commission’s Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of their independent powers.

PEN is intervening across the region, through the press, governments and our Impunity Campaign with one simple idea in mind:

Free Expression, whether through literature or journalism or public debate, belongs at the centre of our civilizations. It is not something to be added on once there is prosperity or social order or peace. Literature and free expression make all of these more probable.

Best wishes to you all,

John