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Monthly letter from John Ralston Saul, International President - April 2012

Tuesday 1 May 2012 - 10:22am

April 27, 2012

Dear PEN Members, Dear friends,

Hori Takeaki, Eric Lax and I have just spent several days in London, discussing PEN strategy, spending time with Laura McVeigh and the staff of our international office and talking to publishers at the London Book Fair.

The three of us try to get together several times a year. We are almost always on Skype every Thursday for two hours with Laura so that the Executive and the office keep up with each other. But actually being in the same room together for several days is wonderful.

It is even more difficult for the Board. Our meetings involve 10 members plus the four committee chairs, plus senior staff on phones around the world. Happily, we will be having a face to face Board meeting in mid-June in London. I hope that among other things we will be able to discuss the preliminary reports of the Digital Media Committee and the Governance Committee, both set up by the Assembly in Belgrade.

While in London last week, we were briefed by the staff on multiple projects. For example, now that the new website is in place, they are developing a second site – a literary web site. Or, through our work with IFEX and Index on Censorship, a book is coming out in Tunis, first in Arabic, on the fall of the Ben Ali regime and the role of writers. We are exploring with the Publishers Circle ways of building on this project by looking at places where the weakness of the publishing structure limits freedom of expression.

The WIPC continues to work hard on Mexico and the President of English PEN, Gillian Slovo, who was on the original Delegation, is back in Mexico City and is giving follow-up interviews with the help of PEN Mexico. The Mexican Senate seems to have taken on the threats to Freedom of Expression with enthusiasm. They have now passed a second law. This one is more geared towards the protection of journalists and their families. Meanwhile, another investigative journalist – Regina Martinez – was found murdered in Veracruz on April 28th.

The official guest country at the London Book Fair this year was China. They sent a large Delegation of writers, but of course 35 others are in prison and the freedom of expression situation in China is unchanged. Therefore, there was tension at the Fair, but English PEN made a point of inviting Chinese writers in exile to speak on their stand. And the Independent Chinese PEN Centre decided to take their own stand. They held readings and a press conference at which their President, Tienchi Liao, and I spoke.

Before going to London, I was in New York to talk to publishers about the Publishers Circle, with the support of American PEN. We can now welcome Grove Atlantic to the Circle, on which there are now 15 publisher members. I also sat down with PEN America’s new President, Peter Godwin, as well as with Steven Isenberg and Larry Siems.

Finally, in my last letter I told you about the meeting Ethiopian PEN and myself had in Addis Ababa with Jean Ping, Chairperson of the African Union. As a result, Abdul-Rahman Harruna Attah, representing the PEN African Network (PAN), and Frank Geary are now in Abuja, Nigeria, talking to the African Union Ministers of Education about our school programs in Africa. This is an important new relationship.

With best wishes to you all,

John Ralston Saul