PEN is like most writers I know: passionate, principled, stubborn and willing to speak out. PEN is the voice, and the conscience, of writers everywhere. More than 140 centres operate on six continents, with PEN Canada considered among the most active and effective. People look to us for leadership.
As the president, I am mindful of that legacy and responsibility. I am also aware that times have been rapidly changing. At PEN Canada we are undergoing our own 21st-century transformation, with greater attention now being paid to how new technologies and social media can help our work. It is a brave and unsettling new world of advocacy, support, campaigning, information sharing and simply communicating between like-minded authors and defenders of the written word, and we plan to be on the cutting edge.
Which isn’t to say we won’t still be writing old-fashioned letters (and emails) on behalf of imprisoned authors, faxing public statements to the media, taking stands on free speech issues here in Canada, making phone calls to politicians and embassies, and inviting on-stage thinkers and talkers.
We’ll be doing it all, strategies old and new, time-honored and just-invented, to play a role in public debate in Canada on the most fundamental of matters for writers and citizens equally: our obligation to speak up, to say what we think.
As a writer of books and journalism who works occasionally for radio and television, I am someone who exercises his right to free speech every day, without much worry of being silenced, imprisoned or killed. That makes me one lucky author. It has also compelled my participation in PEN Canada for almost 20 years.
The writer who can speak is obliged do so for the one who has been silenced; the author with the freedom must insist that the basic right be upheld elsewhere. We are all in this together. We all write with one PEN.