International PEN

Victoria Garafola
Staff Writer
With the recent passing of banned book week, censorship and literary oppression have been a fresh topic bouncing off the empty cups at coffee shops. When literature is forbidden, restricted or pulled from curriculum, readers are drawn to the chapters by a sense of alluring novelty. Censorship is an ongoing problem both in the international community and locally. The ability to speak out about the issues that matter most to you should be a natural right. However, so often writers are prohibited from speaking their mind, or have difficulty finding publishers to endorse controversial issues. While our first amendment rights make it very difficult to be incarcerated for the things you say, they do not protect our right to have our writing published in the local paper. The first amendment never guarantees an audience or an even the ability it say what you want to.
International PEN a collection of Poets, Essayist, and Novelists involved in a global organization committed to the protection of freedom of expression; constantly battling censorship and the oppression of authors since 1921. Today International PEN has 145 Centers in 104 countries across the globe. To date, PEN is the only global community for authors of all races, religions, nationalities and social class. The mission of this long standing charity is to promote peace and understanding through the appreciation of global literature. PEN has embraced the notion of peace by instilling compassion and acceptance through relatable literature and the protection of writers.
Most notable, International PEN is a non-government association primarily interested in the preservation of literature and the individuals who produce it. Through PEN realizes peace is promoted through cultural comprehension and the acceptance of societal differences. International PEN is committed to the liberation of the mind and freedom of press and speech. The organization has developed a “Writers in Prison Committee” which actively works to free writers who have been silenced by governments through incarceration. Their methods include protests letters, lobbying legislature and increasing public awareness.
Journalists like Hu Jia have become victims of censorship and political circumstance. Hu Jia is currently serving a three and a half year sentence in China for “inciting subversion of state power” for his critical writings and rebellious activities. Jia is in immediate danger as his health is reported to be failing due to lack of care in these foreign prisons. International PEN is working to raise awareness for Hu Jia and many other journalists and authors in his position by sending letters and providing coverage for the censored. These authors are often treated like vicious criminals and are not afforded basic human luxuries such as health care and family contact. This mans whereabouts are currently undisclosed, and he is said to be in immediate danger.
International Pen has worked with some of the most influential and notable names in literature, such as Nadine Gordimer, H.G Wells and Arthur Miller, among so many others. These men and women have lead fascinating lives, as well as contributed to a global appreciation for language and human rights. Nadine Gordimer fought censorship in the divided apartheid governed South Africa. In 1991, she won the Nobel Prize for literature and was also vice president of International Pen, at one point. Arthur Miller was likewise the first American president of International Pen, and held the position for four years. These icons have shaped literature and pioneered to have all language to be expressed and allowed.
Writing is an artistic endeavor, releasing emotion and providing a small insight into the culture in which the author is submersed. Through literature, poetry, novels, essays and even lyrics, we learn much about the author as an individual and connect with the world and time they belong to. Throughout much of the literary history, writers have been persecuted and have faced harsh legal action for their outspoken language and social commentary. Writing is an intellectual craft, personal, controversial and occasionally dangerous. International PEN is certainly a unique “charity” working to promote peace and social justice for the brave, outspoken writers on a global level. The organization is unique and flourishing; however any support or interest is always welcome. For more information please visit or simply Google “International PEN”.
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