Background

We are the Canadian chapter of PEN International, founded in England in 1921 to represent “Poets, Essayists and Novelists.” PEN International was conceived by Mrs. C.A. Dawson Scott and the first PEN Club was founded shortly thereafter in London by Mrs. Scott and John Galsworthy, who would become PEN International’s first President. They established the following aims:

  • To promote intellectual co-operation and understanding among writers;
  •  To create a world community of writers that would emphasize the central role of literature in the development of world culture; and,
  • To defend literature against the many threats to its survival which the modern world poses.

PEN has endured as the only world-wide organization of writers. It has grown to include centres on six continents, which sponsor International PEN Congresses held at least once a year.

The first PEN centre in Canada was founded in 1926 in Montreal. In 1983, the English-language centre, PEN Canada, moved to Toronto, while the French-speaking Centre quebecois du PEN continues its work in Montreal. The two Canadian PEN centres collaborate on various issues. Since then, PEN Canada has expanded to include journalists, playwrights, publishers, translators, editors and screenwriters. PEN Canada is one of the most active of the 141 centres of PEN International.

PEN Charter

The P.E.N. Charter is based on resolutions passed at its International Congresses and may be summarized as follows:

PEN affirms that:

Literature knows no frontiers and must remain common currency among people in spite of political or international upheavals.

In all circumstances, and particularly in time of war, works of art, the patrimony of humanity at large, should be left untouched by national or political passion.

Members of PEN should at all times use what influence they have in favour of good understanding and mutual respect between nations; they pledge themselves to do their utmost to dispel race, class and national hatreds, and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace in one world.

PEN stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations, and members pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community to which they belong, as well as throughout the world wherever this is possible. PEN declares for a free press and opposes arbitrary censorship in time of peace. It believes that the necessary advance of the world towards a more highly organized political and economic order renders a free criticism of governments, administrations and institutions imperative. And since freedom implies voluntary restraint, members pledge themselves to oppose such evils of a free press as mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood and distortion of facts for political and personal ends.

Membership in PEN is open to all qualified writers, editors and translators who subscribe to these aims, without regard to nationality, ethnic origin, language, colour or religion.

November 2003

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