People of Word (32)

Literature knows no frontiers: celebrating 100 years of PEN International

A centenary toast for the mission of PEN

On 5th October 1921, in a clear reaction to the evils of the first world war, English writer, playwright and poet Catharine Dawson Scott invited writers from London to the first PEN dinner. The invitation had both a spirit of international literary fraternity and a clear feminist perspective:

«London has no centre where well-known writers of both sexes can meet socially, no place where distinguished visitors from abroad can hope to find them. As a dinner-club would supply this need, it is proposed to start one»

John Galsworthy, the first president of PEN (and the first major donor), lifted his glass to writers from all the corners of the world and said:

«We writers are in some sort trustees for human nature. If we are narrow and prejudiced, we harm the human race. And the better we know each other, the greater the chance of human happiness in a world not, as yet, too happy»

A hundred years later, at the closing ceremony of the 87th PEN International Centenary Congress, the newly elected President of PEN International, Kurdish writer and lawyer Burhan Sönmez, raised his glass and repeated exactly the same words, just adding:

«So we have a mission! Congratulations to all in our centenary!»

See more in English on the PEN International website.