The International Pen Club, (Poets, Essayists, Novelists): 100 years already …

The Pen Club was born after the first world conflict of the twentieth century. This first European drama, which will mark the start of the past century, was a shock for many European families, a gravedigger of young generations, and a series of massacres which, alas, will not be the only ones in this century.

So, after awareness raising and many voices being raised in favor of lasting peace, a ‘never again’, Catherine Amy Dawson Scott, British poet, playwright and peace activist, created in 1921, the Pen Club, a meeting of writers from all walks of life sharing a common vision of the world, the first goal of which is friendship, intellectual cooperation and exchange between writers from all over the world.

If the English word “pen” means pen, here it is the acronym for “Poets, Essayists, Novelists” (Poets, Essayists, Novelists).

After London, the French Pen Club was born in 1927, the decade will see 25 Pen Clubs in Europe, then others will flourish in South America and China, from the 1930s.

Thus famous feathers joined the Pen Club: Anatole France, Paul Valéry, Jules Romains, André Chamson, Toni Morrison, Vercors, HG Wells, Arthur Miller, Henrich Böll, François Mauriac, Margareth Atwood, Solange Fasquelle, Maurice Maeterlinck, Elizabeth Craig, Alberto Moravia, Mario Vargas LLosa, Luisa Valenzuela, Jennifer Clement, George Bernard Shaw. Today the French Pen Club is chaired by Antoine Spire.

As explained to us by our guest, Carles Torner, one of the authors of the book PEN international (Actes Sud editions), the Pen Club today constitutes an international network of writers in more than 100 countries, now extended to publishers, translators, journalists and bloggers, all united within the Pen Club for freedom of expression and literature.

The Pen Club is not only an association of writers facilitating their meetings, or their exchanges throughout the world, it is first and foremost a network which helps writers, journalists and publishers unjustly prosecuted and imprisoned in their country.

For a century this association has fought against the persecutions of men of letters, this was the case first of all with German or Austrian writers, during the Third Reich, Italians, under the Mussolini regime, Russians, during the Soviet era and others. , behind the Iron Curtain, like Vaclav Havel.

Gotlib and Claire Bretécher during a signing session at the IEP (Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris) organized by the 'Pen Club' in Paris, December 14, 1974. (WILLIAM KAREL / GAMMA-RAPHO VIA GETTY IMAGES)

Today the Pen Club sets up various actions in favor of the one who is imprisoned, among other things, the sending of mail to the imprisoned person. Thus, as Carles Torner pointed out, the flood of letters or postcards sent is a lever which very often bears fruit in the face of local authorities.

The list is long of those where the Pen Club intervened for their freedom, including Federico García Lorca (Spain), Stefan Zweig (Austria), Musine Kokalari (Abanie), Wole Soyinka (Nigeria), Salman Rushdie (Great Britain) , Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Kenya), Anna Politkovskaïa (Russia), Hrant Dink (Turkey) or Svetlana Alexievitch (Belarus).

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