#100PENMembers No. 75: Lisa Appignanesi

Lisa Appignanesi, novelist, academic and free speech campaigner who was President of English PEN.

Well-known for studies such as Freud’s Women (2005) and Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors (2008), Appignanesi was has also served as Chair of the Royal Society of Literature.

She became Deputy President of English PEN in 2004 and President in 2008.

During this time she led the No Offence campaign which raised awareness of potential free expression implications of t the UK government’s Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006. 

Declaring PEN’s victory in the case, Appignanesi said: ‘The No Offence campaign celebrated its victory in amending the Government’s Racial and Religious Hatred Bill at the Garrick Club on 13 March 2006. 

‘This is perhaps the first time in British Parliamentary History that a Bill contains a declaratory amendment: one which fully spells out the right of free speech. 

‘The campaign’s work is done, but English PEN’s larger role in deliberating on Free Expression in our 21st century goes on. We are putting in place a Commission on Free Speech. Any thoughts on this or help with funding is welcome. Watch this space.’

Her tenure as President and Deputy President of English PEN coincided with a number of free expression events, which illuminated the re-casting of free expression in an interconnected world.

One was the Charlie Hebdo affair, which showcased the complexities of free expression in a multicultural, multifaith and interrelated world.

As Appignanesi told the Irish Times in 2006: ‘Such is the speed of communications now, anything that is said here has repercussions in places where the context is very, very different.’

 ‘One could say that learning how to live in a society together is the best form of restriction on the offensive kinds of expression. But when legislation comes from above, in other words, criminalises speech, that’s something else, and we have to be very wary.’

Appignanesi also launched a report into Libel Reform in the UK entitled ‘Free Speech is Not For Sale’ which aimed to rid Britain of obsolete libel and blasphemy laws, which could be used to suppress free speech and expression.

She was responsible for setting up the PEN Pinter Prize, in honour of ‘the spirit of’#100PENMembers Harold Pinter. The award was designed to reward a writer who displayed ‘fierce intellectual determination… to define the real truth of our lives and our societies.’

The Prize is unique in that, as well as awarding £1,000 to the winner, it allows the winner to award a further £1,000 to a writer in prison elsewhere in the world.

When the prize was launched Appignanesi praised Pinter as a writer who was ‘actively engaged in defending the value of the whole enterprise of literature, too often threatened by those who would silence the always unpredictable force of words and ideas.’Whilst free expression campaigning has evolved significantly in the age of the culture wars and the deployment of free speech discourse by right wing media, Appignanesi’s tenure at English PEN helped to establish the organisation at the forefront of the highly politicised and globalised free expression debates of the twenty-first century.

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