English PEN have begun to unveil some of the events and schemes which they will use to celebrate their centenary year, 2021.
PEN was founded by Catherine Amy Dawson Scott in London, initially as a literary dining club, and evolved into one of the first and largest free expression organisations in the world.
From its first meeting in the Florence Restaurant in London’s Soho on the 5th October 1921, it went on to become a forerunner for organisations like Amnesty International, Index on Censorship and Article 19.
‘Common Currency’ – the title of these Centenary events – is a title taken from the PEN Charter.
This particular part of the Charter proved contentious in the early days (although it was worded slightly differently) leading many members to insist that the organisation should exist entirely separately from politics.
However, under the leadership of H.G. Wells, it became a much more serious campaigning organisation, particularly following the ejection of the German Centre in 1933.
In the first event Fatima Bhutto introduces her essay ‘A World on Fire’ commissioned by New Writing North and English PEN and taking as its starting point the PEN Women’s Manifesto of 2017.
Common Currency is a unique project that combines timely debates on freedom of expression, creative campaigning and a celebration of diverse voices.
Hannah Trevarthen, Events and Partnerships Manager at English PEN said: ‘We’re really excited about the upcoming Centenary celebrations across the UK and Ireland exploring three key themes: free speech and democracy; languages and ideas crossing borders; and celebrating women.
‘We chose the name “common currency’, as the notion that the power of stories, sharing knowledge and ideas brings people together is as important as ever.’
More events are forthcoming, including an address by Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, as part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas, which will discuss the future implications of coronavirus for Bristol and cities like it.
More information on the events is available on the English PEN website.