PEN International

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PEN International is one of the best-known international authors' associations . It was founded on October 5th, 1921 by the English writer Catherine Amy Dawson Scott in London . The abbreviation PEN originally stood for poets, essayists, novelists (" poets , essayists , novelists "). Since representatives of all writing professions can be members, the name no longer has this meaning. However, he still alludes to the English word pen (" writing pen ").

Membership in a PEN center is basically open to all authors, regardless of nationality, language, race, skin color or religion, who can have two independent publications. Admission is organized according to the English club principle : A member of a PEN center can only be made by someone who is proposed for election from among the members of the center concerned. The proposal must be supported by at least two guarantors from the center, and the majority of the general assembly must approve the election. Self-applications are frowned upon and are often rejected. The new member must also sign a commitment to the principles of the Charter of the International PEN .

The foundation took place a few years after the First World War . Initially, the focus of the PEN was on promoting peace and international understanding and thereby involving as many nations as possible. In the face of the persecution, suppression and censorship of writers around the world, the PEN increasingly campaigned for their rights and the enforcement of free expression . In 1960 the Writers in Prison Committee was therefore founded. It documents cases of repression, censorship, imprisonment and murder of writers and publicists , denounces these cases publicly and thereby exerts pressure on the governments concerned. However, since it was not always possible to effectively protect writers from persecution within their country, the Writers in Exile Network was founded at the end of the 1990s , which enables persecuted authors to find temporary or permanent shelter in countries that are safer for them.


PEN International acts as the umbrella organization for 144 centers in 102 countries and is an advisory member of UNESCO . The Presidium of the International PEN consists of the members of the individual PEN Centers, who are elected at the Assembly of Delegates : President, Secretary, Treasurer and seven assessors. The association's administrative headquarters are in London and the current president is Jennifer Clement .

Each PEN center is to be seen as an independent organization, with its own administration and executive committee, in whose internal affairs the International PEN does not intervene.

PEN International is largely financed by the annual membership fees of the individual centers. Outstanding contributions, but also serious internal conflicts, can lead to a center being declared dormant for a certain period of time . During this time, the center has no voting rights in the general assembly. The Dormancy status is voted on in the plenary meeting and discussed again the following year.

The international PEN congress takes place once a year, every year in a different country, and is hosted and organized by the respective national PEN center. The venues are set at the General Assembly for several years in advance.

Each voting PEN center sends two delegates to the General Assembly, which usually takes place in the first few days of the Congress. Organizational issues are discussed and voted on in the plenary meeting, and board elections are held.

In addition, the meetings of the numerous PEN committees take place during the congresses, including the Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee , the Writers for Peace Committee , the Writers in Prison Committee , the Women Writers' Committee and the so-called Exile Network .

However, PEN International also emphasizes that the congresses should enable encounters between cultures and strengthen the community of writers around the world. For this purpose, readings, celebrations and receptions are scheduled, often during the second half of the congress, whereby the focus is on the literature of the respective host country and the congress is organized under a different motto every year.

Charter of the International PEN

The PEN Charter is based on resolutions that have been adopted at international congresses and should be summarized as follows. The PEN Club adheres to the following principles:

  1. Literature knows no borders and must remain a currency common to all people even in times of domestic or international upheavals.
  2. Under all circumstances, and especially during war, works of art, the inheritance of all humanity, should remain untouched by national and political passions.
  3. Members of the PEN should at all times use their full influence for the good understanding and mutual respect of the nations. They undertake to work with the utmost strength to combat racial, class and national hatred and to uphold the ideal of humanity living in peace in a united world.
  4. The PEN stands for the principle of an unhindered exchange of ideas within every nation and between all nations, and its members undertake to prevent any kind of suppression of free expression in their country, in the community in which they live and wherever possible worldwide to oppose. The PEN supports the freedom of the press and opposes any arbitrary censorship in peacetime. He takes the position that the necessary progress in the world towards a more highly organized political and economic order makes free criticism of governments, administrations and institutions imperative. And since freedom also includes voluntarily exercised restraint, the members undertake to work against such excesses of a free press as untruthful publications, deliberate falsifications and distortions of facts for political and personal goals.


Founding phase (1921–1926)

The founding of the PEN on October 5, 1921 by the writer Catherine Amy Dawson Scott in London was shaped by the peace movement that had already formed in the mid-19th century. Dawson Scott had already created the "To Morrow Club" - a forerunner of the PEN. So one could say that the PEN was initially founded as a kind of “dinner club”, a literary “society of friends”, but that over time it has developed into an international association of authors.

Early members of the club included Joseph Conrad , George Bernard Shaw, and HG Wells . Authors such as Anatole France , Thomas Mann , Paul Valéry and Benedetto Croce , who played an active role in the life and work of the PEN , also joined the centers, which were quickly established across Europe . Over the years, other Nobel Prize winners and important writers have joined the association.

The first president of the PEN was John Galsworthy . In the early years of the PEN, Dawson Scott and Galsworthy attached great importance to working in the interests of international understanding in order to secure a lasting peace between the peoples. Hermann Kesten about John Galsworthy: "Apparently he believed that only authors of all languages ​​had to become friends and sworn guarantors of peace and freedom, so soon all peoples, their readers, should follow them and treat one another as good friends in peace and freedom." For politics, however, Dawson-Scott and Galsworthy saw no place in their club, the motto was: "No politics, under no circumstances".

In 1923 the first international PEN congress took place in London . At this point in time, eleven national PEN centers had already joined the rapidly expanding association, and by the following year, eighteen. At this congress, or rather at the participation of a German delegation led by Gerhart Hauptmann , the first political controversy within the PEN ignited. The Belgian delegation refused to take part in the congress, which was mainly due to the presence of the captain, who had made a name for himself during the First World War, mainly through nationalist slogans.

The attitude of Belgian writers was mainly criticized by the French Nobel Prize laureate Romain Rolland , who wrote in the journal Europe that if one wanted to wait until all crimes had been atoned for, there would be no stone left of Europe.

In the first years of the association, new PEN clubs emerged mainly in Europe, with the exception of the American PEN club, which was founded in New York in 1922, and the Canadian PEN, which was founded in Montreal in 1926.

By 1926 the PEN had grown to around twenty-five centers, including Austria, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and the centers of Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia, which until 1941 formed the Association of Yugoslav PEN Centers.

That year the fourth international PEN congress took place in Berlin , to which 15 national PEN clubs sent their delegates. This congress, which was also intended as a gesture of reconciliation towards the Germans, who were still decried as warmongers, did not meet with approval from all sides. The younger German writers in particular, including Bertolt Brecht , Kurt Tucholsky , Alfred Döblin and Willy Haas , were bothered by the merger, which they found out of date, and criticized the association in a way that particularly horrified John Galsworthy. Nevertheless, the then presidium of the German PEN, Karl Federn and Ludwig Fulda , succeeded in integrating many of the young writers into the club over the following years.

No Politics? (1927–1938)

PEN clubs were founded in Bulgaria, Scotland, Estonia and Finland in 1927, and in Latvia the following year. The Chinese PEN was founded in 1930, the Australian PEN in 1931 and the New Zealand PEN in 1934.

This influx of people, cultures and personal opinions enriched the PEN, but the exclusion of politics advocated by Galsworthy and Dawson Scott brought increasing problems. In the German PEN Club founded in 1924, Ernst Toller in particular campaigned for a politicization of the association in the following years. His proposal was to get Russian writers into the PEN Club, an undertaking that failed because of the clashes between exiled Russians and Soviet writers as well as the refusal of the PEN and its founders, a "left wing" within the PEN to establish.

At the International PEN Congress in Budapest in 1932, John Galsworthy opened the General Assembly with a five-point declaration, in which he stressed that the PEN and its members should refrain from any form of propaganda, political influence, warmongering and interference in domestic conflicts. It was to be Galsworthy's last public attempt to keep politics out of the PEN: He died on January 31, 1933 of complications from a brain tumor.

Only a few months later, in April 1933, shortly after Hitler came to power, the German press reported that the German PEN had expressed in a general assembly the “unanimous will” to “continue to work in harmony with the national uprising”. The former president of the German PEN, Alfred Kerr , had fled Germany in January 1933 and the new board of the German PEN, which consisted primarily of members of the Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur , such as Hanns Johst and Hans Hinkel , immediately got on with it To exclude Jews and communists from their association.

The participation of the emphatically apolitical German delegation at the International PEN Congress in Ragusa (Dubrovnik) from May 22 to 28, 1933 was considered controversial due to these circumstances and the events in Germany. However, this view was not shared by all PEN members; Numerous letters of support were sent to the German PEN from Italy, Switzerland, Austria and England. At the request of the German delegation, a discussion about the persecution of Jewish and communist authors taking place in Germany and the burning of books was not included on the agenda in Ragusa, and the National Socialists' acts were not condemned by the PEN's general assembly.

When Ernst Toller, who had emigrated from Germany, was given the floor during the congress, both the Reich German delegation and some members of other delegations, including Austria, Italy, Switzerland and the Netherlands, left the room amid protests. The German PEN Club left the association a few months later, and the Union of National Writers was founded as the successor association .

The “ PEN Club of German Writers in Exile ”, the first exile center within the association, was founded in 1934, its first president was Heinrich Mann . In the years up to the outbreak of the Second World War, the members of this PEN Club tried above all to save as many of their colleagues as possible from Germany and the areas occupied by the Germans and to give them shelter and a further livelihood, through scholarships or secure the creation of work.

The shooting of Federico García Lorca and the Spanish Civil War depressed the mood during the 1937 International PEN Congress in Paris. After long deliberations, it was decided to adopt a protest resolution.

The next International PEN Congress took place in Prague in 1938, the following September it was supposed to be held in Stockholm, but was canceled practically at the last minute by the Swedish PEN and postponed indefinitely. H. G. Wells , the then President of the British PEN, made the unsuccessful attempt to persuade the Swedes to continue the Congress.

Post-war and present

After 1945 PEN continued the aforementioned anti-repression policy in favor of persecuted authors. For example, in 1956, some threatened Hungarian writers or journalists were able to leave the country, as Arthur Miller mentions in his memoirs. When the well-known US playwright suggested he take over the presidency (until 1969) in 1965, he nonetheless had the impression that the club was bobbing around. Miller writes: “Despite its valuable work, PEN had failed to build a bridge to the generation of the now 20 to 30 year olds and it was now considered tame and largely irrelevant. PEN was also a victim of the Cold War , which damaged, if not ruined, its reputation in the smaller countries that were not wholly on the side of the West. The new policy of détente required new attempts to tolerate the differences between East and West ... “The PEN annual congress took place in Yugoslavia in the year he took office. Miller took the opportunity to speak to the head of the Soviet delegation Alexei Surkov at the conference venue in Bled , which also led to an invitation to Moscow . However, the accession talks that took place in the Soviet capital the following year were broken up because of the Soviet initiative to remove the ban on censorship from the PEN Charter.

The German PEN was re-established in 1947, but in 1951 it split again into the section of the Federal Republic and the section "East and West", later GDR. It was not until October 1998, after laborious negotiations and protests by East German dissidents, that the two groups succeeded in reuniting into an association. Today, the German PEN is committed to the “Writers in Exile” program, above all for persecuted authors, and thus explicitly ties in with the history of German exile.

The German PEN Club in Exile was renamed the PEN Center for German-Speaking Authors Abroad in 1948 and, after the fall of the Wall in 1989, also offered a spiritual home to a number of East German authors who did not want to join the reunited German PEN or who had left the German PEN .

List of Presidents of the International PEN (selection)

List of some PEN centers

PEN / Faulkner Award

The PEN / Faulkner Award for Fiction is a literary prize co-founded by the International PEN .


The 1936 PEN Congress in Buenos Aires is an episode of the feature film Before the Dawn about the writer Stefan Zweig , which deals with the different views on the political engagement of writers.

Web links

Commons : PEN International  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  2. PEN Charter
  3. ^ Thomas von Vegesack : "Notes of the Early History of the International PEN Club"
  4. Christa Dericum : "From the history of the German PEN (excerpt)" ( Memento from November 10, 2011 in the Internet Archive ).
  5. 90 years of German PEN, “Protection in Europe” and the press - PEN Center Germany criticizes reporting on Günter Grass. At: December 15, 2014, accessed on January 22, 2016. "On December 15, 1924, the first German PEN group was founded as part of the International PEN, ..."
  6. Arthur Miller: time curves , 1987, German edition Frankfurt / Main 1989, p 746
  7. Miller 1989, p. 745
  8. Miller 1989, p. 768
  9. German-Swiss PEN Center (homepage).
  10. ^ PEN America (homepage). The “PEN American Center” (New York) was renamed “PEN America” on March 1st, 2018, after the merger with the “PEN Center USA” (Los Angeles).
  11. ^ Independent Chinese PEN Center (homepage).