PEN International’s Make Space campaign – which launched today and is backed by diverse writers from across PEN’s global membership – aims to create opportunities for writers who have experienced forced displacement or are living in exile. We’ll be doing this through publications, events, advocacy, and projects over the course of three years.
A Mission Statement for the launch of the campaign has been signed by more than 300 writers, Nobel Laureates, PEN Centres and members including Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Elfriede Jelinek, Ahmedurrashid Tutul, Stephen Fry, Hanan Al-Shaykh, Lev Rubinstein, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Salman Rushdie, Ece Temelkuran, Boris Akunin, Sanna Aoun, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Yann Martel, Sofi Oksanen, Urvashi Butalia, Chigozie Obioma, Noo Saro-Wiwa, Isabel Allende, Inua Ellams, Ocean Vuong, Rafeef Ziadah, Elena Poniatowska and Viet Thanh Nguyen. The statement reads:
‘Some of us have been displaced; some of us are refugees and asylum seekers; some of us have lived in exile, or have been forced to go into hiding in our own countries. But we are all writers and use words in ways that can shift and inform the society around us. And – whoever we are, wherever we are – when we consciously make space for the stories of displaced communities within our own, we make space for a shared cultural understanding that enriches us and connects us, disrupting the systems of division that alienate and dehumanise. It is time to act, and to act together.’
Renowned Chilean writer Isabel Allende, who herself was a refugee, said of the campaign’s hope to challenge xenophobia through cultural sharing and literature:
‘It’s very easy to create a sense of hatred when you talk numbers, but when you see the faces of people, when you look at them in the eye one by one, then the whole thing changes, and that’s what art and literature can do.’
PEN Writers Circle member, Salman Rushdie said – ‘This campaign represents a significant public stand against racism and xenophobia, as well as a concerted effort from the heart of the literary industry to make opportunities for writers representative and fair. PEN International’s work with refugee writers is deep in their life-blood and began long ago in the 1930s; it’s important in today’s world to reinvigorate this with new energy and a commitment from the literary industry worldwide.’
Artists and human rights activist Ai Weiwei said – ‘Literature is a place where we can construct new realities together, but unless the literature available to us is representative, those new realities threaten to reconstruct the prejudice and discrimination of the world we live in. I welcome PEN International’s campaign and its amplification of marginalised voices and the attempt to create a more understanding and open world through cross-cultural exchange.’
This campaign represents a significant public stand against racism and xenophobia, as well as a concerted effort from the heart of the literary industry to make opportunities for writers representative and fair. PEN International’s work with refugee writers is deep in their life-blood and began long ago in the 1930s; it’s important in today’s world to reinvigorate this with new energy and a commitment from the literary industry worldwide. ‘ – Salman Rushdie
Through this work, we hope to generate better cross-cultural understanding and an interrogation of what it is to host displaced communities in resettlement settings; challenge stereotypes around exile and asylum; and redress a societal imbalance that too often means writers who have experienced displacement face marginalisation or discrimination.
Renowned writer Ngugi Wa Thiongo will read the full mission statement at a reception in Lillehammer, Norway, where the Make Space campaign will launch on 31 May. The launch event will form part of ‘In Other Words’, a joint PEN & ICORN conference bringing together members of a vast global network working to provide protection mechanisms and shelter opportunities for writers who are persecuted and driven from their homes. Many of the ICORN writers – all of whom are currently living and working in exile – have pledged support for the campaign, and PEN looks forward to working with these talented individuals to bring their work to a wider audience.
Sanna Aoun – a Syrian writer living in Norway – stated;
‘What I know is that my relationship with writing started the moment I started to express myself through language. I gradually reached the point when writing became the only thing that kept me balanced and sane. Writing allows me to compensate my personal losses and widen my personal space. It allows me to do what I can’t do in reality.’
The launch of this campaign builds on a long history at PEN International of collaborating with writers who are refugees and asylum seekers, and providing financial, professional, and social assistance to them from within our Centres around the world. It’s also part of our core mission to counter hatred and discrimination, and to do so my promoting culture, art, and free expression.
The full text of the mission statement can be read here.
For more information and to request interviews please contact Sarah Perry and Sahar Halaimzai:
sarah.perry@pen-international | firstname.lastname@example.org | + 44 (0) 20 7405 0338.
www.pen-makespace.org |www.pen-international.org |Twitter: @pen_int | Instagram: pen_makespace