PEN International deeply saddened by the death of Thomas von Vegesack, publisher, writer and free speech activist.


Thomas von Vegesack, writer, intellectual and Vice President of PEN International, who died on 9th May 2012, will be remembered by all at PEN for his outstanding contribution to literature and the defence of free expression. A Swedish publisher and writer, he was Chair of Swedish PEN 1978-87 and Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee 1987-92. He was passionate about PEN and gave a huge amount to us both within Sweden and internationally. By his friends and colleagues, he was valued and esteemed for his unwaveringly loyal and courageous commitment to freedom of expression.

Thomas von Vegesack was a determining figure of modern PEN. When I first came to a congress in the 1980s, there he was, giving everyone the confidence that we could stand up to any government, to any force. There was an ethical strength about him that was immediately felt; a clarity about what was unacceptable, about what we should do. Thomas was a great man and a great voice for our devotion to free expression. – John Ralston Saul, President, PEN International.

I think of Thomas von Vegesack as one of the founding fathers of PEN International. He was fearless, principled and utterly devoted to a vision of PEN as a leader in freedom of expression work. His leadership as Chair of the WiPC, and subsequent quiet, wise counsel as a Vice President strengthened PEN immeasurably. – Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee.

Vegesack published a broad variety of works including a biography of his father, a history of the freedom of the Swedish press, and, more recently an autobiographical book based on his memories of PEN, Days With PEN. In the book, Vegesack looks back on his time as Chair of PEN International’s WiPC, during which he was monitored by the Stasi and searched by the KGB.

Eugene Schoulgin, Vice President of PEN International and close personal friend of Thomas’, writes:

The news that our friend and important PEN member Thomas von Vegesack died yesterday reached us and filled, I am sure, many of us who had the privilege to know him with grief.

Thomas was a man who never bargained with his ideals, who always stood clear and visible on the side of those oppressed and those who spoke up against all kinds of injustice. He was a true intellectual and when he spoke people had to listen. In PEN he frequently solved seemingly endless disputes by uttering two or three sentences, often followed by this typical short laughter and a “yes”. He was highly valued by all of us who had the opportunity to learn from his rich experience, and few knew PEN and our rather complicated organization better than Thomas.

We who worked particularly in the Writers in Prison Committee have a special reason to be grateful to Thomas von Vegesack. As Chair of the committee he worked tirelessly with the staff in London and I believe we all not only respected him, but also learned to love him as a warmhearted and careful person with a great sense of humor. With his death we in PEN have lost one of our most important personalities and a dear friend.

May he rest in peace!

Thomas will be sadly missed by the PEN community and our thoughts are with his family.

Laura McVeigh
Executive Director
PEN International