Power to PEN

One hundred years ago, Catharine Amy Dawson-Scott, a British poet, playwright and peace activist, founded PEN (an acronym for Poets, Essayists, and Novelists) as a way to unite writers after the devastation of World War One.

At first it was nothing more than a London dinner club, providing a space for writers to share ideas and socialize. But even then, PEN’s first president, John Galsworthy, could envision an international movement, something like a “League of Nations for men and women of letters,” he said.

Today, as PEN International, PEN is still going strong, operating in 115 countries, celebrating literature and defending free speech around the globe. From opposing book-burning and the persecution of writers in Nazi Germany, to supporting imprisoned writers across the world today, PEN has worked tirelessly to safeguard against censorship and self-censorship.

To mark its centenary, PEN International has published a big, beautiful, coffee-table-style book titled PEN International: An Illustrated History, co-authored by six outstanding writers and designed by designers from the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

PEN International: An Illustrated History follows PEN’s journey and work on the promotion of literature and the protection of freedom of expression over the last century. Published in nine languages to date, with more than 300 pages, 500 documents, including photographs, letters, posters and maps, the book celebrates writers, members, supporters and all those who, since its founding in 1921, have spoken truth to power and urged governments to uphold the right to freedom of expression.

One of the book’s authors is acclaimed writer Jennifer Clement, author of such highly regarded novels as Prayers for the Stolen and Gun Love, who lives here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and who served as president of PEN Mexico from 2009 to 2012. She was also the first woman to be elected president of PEN International.

On Wednesday afternoon of this week Jennifer was scheduled to give a presentation — outdoors, on the patio of the Biblioteca Pública here in SMA — about the new book and San Miguel’s own PEN chapter; but due to a family issue she was unable to attend. So Lucina Kathmann, vice president of PEN International and treasurer of San Miguel PEN, filled in for her, and author Victor Sahuatoba shared the platform:

Lucina and Victor on the raised platform in the patio of the Biblioteca here in SMA
The new book is standing on the coffee table
The audience for the PEN presentation. (I am in the middle, beside the fountain.)

Nobel Prizewinning author Toni Morrison said of PEN International, “My respect for this organization has no borders. PEN has been so fierce, so consistent and ferocious in its efforts that it is hard to ignore their worldwide impact.”

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  • For more information about San Miguel PEN, go to: sanmiguelpen.com .
  • For more about PEN International, visit: pen-international.org .
  • To order a copy of PEN International: An Illustrated History, go to the PEN International website (above) or amazon.com.


18 thoughts on “Power to PEN”

  1. Bonnie thank you so much for this post. I’ve thought PEN was a group mainly for jounalists so this history and explanation REALLY helps.

  2. Thank you for another delightful column. You don’t know this, of course, but I’m living vicariously in SMA through you! And always learning along the way!

    I was thrilled to find “Prayers for the Stolen” at my local library today. That freed up a few dollars to pass on to ABBA House! PEN’s Illustrated History will have to wait, but I’m sure it’s wonderful.

    Merry Christmas, Bonnie. I’m looking forward to another year of WOW.

    1. Dear JoAnne — Your lovely note has arrived on a day when I’ve felt discouraged. So few people have read this PEN-related post (according to the stats, which I can check periodically), I couldn’t help but think, why bother? But your kind and encouraging words have lifted me up again. As long as you are out there, reading and enjoying SMA through my personal experiences here, I’ll carry on! So THANK YOU. And best wishes for merry holidays and a healthy, happy 2022. — Bonnie

      1. Mija! We need you to keep writing! And here’s the other reason to keep writing. Because you are a writer. Because you can’t help yourself. Because what you write is important even if some of your postings dont get read by as many people as you’d like. You enrich a lot of people even when there’s low traffic! Hasta Febrero querida.

        1. Querida Kim — Well, thanks to you and JoAnne I won’t be throwing in the towel any time soon! 🙂 Thank you for the pep talk, which I seem to need from time to time. Safe travels, dear one. I’ll miss you here, but I know you’ll be enjoying yourself wherever your “there” is. Si, hasta Febrero aqui, espero!

      2. I’m so glad my note landed when it was needed. Please keep writing. Your posts have entertained me, inspired me, taught me, and lifted my spirits many a time. From hummingbirds to knitting, and so much in between, your posts are always worthwhile! I especially connected with your recent 8 peso tour. That’s something I’ve done for decades! Best wishes for a wonderful new year.

        1. Blessings on your head, dear JoAnne! Yes, you were the angel sent to lift up my flattened spirits yesterday. Thank you again. I’ve just posted a new WOW, which I think you’ll like also, about pinatas. Happy Holidays! — BB

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