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PENWrites Campaign/

A new partnership between English PEN and Bristol Festival of Ideas was announced in November 2020 and launched with an online discussion on the theme of free speech and democracy featuring Tsitsi Dangarembga.

This event took place on our Crowdcast channel. You can watch it HERE.

Common Currency logo

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.


PENWrites is an international letter -writing campaign in solidarity with writers in prison and at risk around the world.

For decades, PEN has supported writers who are unjustly persecuted, harassed, imprisoned, and even murdered for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and PEN members have long supported fellow writers by sending letters of support.

The impact of such a simple act cannot be underestimated.

Countless writers have told how letters and messages they received provided much-needed moral support in extremely difficult circumstances, serving as a crucial reminder that they had not been forgotten. Others have spoken of how they were afforded better treatment in prison as a result of cards flooding in from all over the world.

For more details of the campaign, the first featured writers, and guidelines for letter-writing please visit the English PEN website.

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