English PEN is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a new programme, Common Currency, working with a range of partners across the UK. Over the next year, writers, readers and activists will come together for a unique programme of events, residencies and workshops beginning in the autumn of 2020 and culminating with a three-day festival of free thinking at the Southbank Centre in 2021.
Taking its name from the PEN Charter that states ‘literature knows no frontiers and must remain common currency among people’, Common Currency combines timely debates on freedom of expression, creative campaigning and a celebration of diverse voices. It seeks to ignite a national conversation around issues of expression led by writers and readers. As such, the programme is organised under three key themes inspired by the PEN Charter: free speech and democracy; languages and ideas; and celebrating women.
The Festival of Ideas’ involvement with the programme focusses on the first of these themes.
What is the current state of freedom of speech and knowledge under attack? Is it worse now than ever before – as might be judged from some coverage? What’s the state of international censorship? What difference has social media made? Are we, in fact, more tolerant now? It’s a deeply complex issue and one we will be exploring with PEN throughout 2021.