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History of the PEN Congress

By PEN International

The first annual International Congress was hosted in London in 1923. From the beginning, as John Galsworthy noted, the founding London club (today English PEN Centre) served as the hub around which each newly created Centre ‘goes as it pleases on terms of perfect equality’. To make this federalist ideal a reality, PEN established a tradition of annual congresses, each year hosted in a different city, starting with London, in 1923.

Important examples of decisions taken at Congresses were the one to commit PEN to international literary solidarity at the New York Congress in 1924 and the approval of PEN’s founding principles at the Brussels Congress of 1927.

The annual PEN International Congress offers an opportunity for the entire PEN community to meet and speak about the organisation’s work.

This gathering brings together members from all PEN Centres once a year (usually late September to early October), firstly to carry out important work such as approving resolutions, general elections, committee meetings and voting on new Centres, but its importance extends far beyond this function. The Congress helps us strengthen our networks and connections; reinforce and refine our core principles through discussion, debate and passing resolutions; exchange experiences and ideas; celebrate writing in all its forms; as well as simply catch up with old and new friends and colleagues.

The culture and literary programme are an important part of each Congress, when all the participants can get to know the local literature traditions and its main protagonists. Events are put on for the wider public that include discussion panels, presentations, round tables on different themes around freedom of expression, and literature readings.

Each Congress is hosted by a PEN Centre that works with the International Office (called ‘the Secretariat’) in London to develop a programme of literary events alongside the annual Congress, which is reflective of PEN’s diverse membership.

Every Congress is also given a thematic focus, which is decided by the host PEN Centre and often reflects the issues that are of the greatest importance to the members of that particular Centre. Recent themes have included ‘Freedom of expression in the Times of Pandemic’, 2020 (the first ever International Digital Congress) and ‘Speaking in Tongues: Literary Freedom and the Indigenous Languages’, 2019 (Manila, Philippines, hosted by the Philippine Centre).

The 2021 Congress marks 100 years of writers promoting literature and protecting freedom of expression worldwide.

List of International Congresses

* : Cancelled Congress 

1st – London (England), 1-3 May 1923

2nd – New York (USA), 13-15 May 1924

3rd – Paris (France), 21-23 May 1925

4th – Berlin (Germany), 16-19 May 1926

5th – Brussels (Belgium), 19-23 June 1927

6th – Oslo (Norway), 17-22 June 1928

7th – Vienna (Austria), 24-28 June 1929

8th – Warsaw (Poland), 20-25 June 1930

9th – Amsterdam (Netherlands), 21-26 June 1931

10th – Budapest (Hungary), 15-20 May 1932

11th – Dubrovnik (Yugoslavia), 25-28 May 1933

12th – Edinburgh (Scotland),17-22 June 1934

13th – Barcelona (Spain), 20-25 May 1935

14th – Buenos Aires (Argentina), 5-15 September 1936

15th – Paris (France), 21-27 June 1937

16th – Prague (Czechoslovakia), 26-30 June 1938

*17th – Stockholm (Sweden), June 1939.

17th – London (England), 10-13 September 1941. Writers in Freedom

18th – Stockholm (Sweden), 2-6 June 1946

19th – Zurich (Switzerland), 2-6 June 1947

*20th – New York (U.S.A.), 1948

20th – Copenhagen (Denmark), 31 May to 5 June 1948. The Art of Prose

21st – Venice (Italy), 10-16 September 1949 

22nd –  Edinburgh (Scotland), 18-25 August 1950

23rd – Lausanne (Switzerland), 22-28 June 1951. Literature and History

24th – Nice (France), 14-19 June 1952. La Jeune Génération et la Littérature

25th – Dublin (Ireland), 8-13 June 1953. The Literature of Peoples Whose Language Restricts Wide Recognition

26th – Amsterdam/The Hague (Netherlands), 20-26 June 1954. Contemporary Experiments in Literary Expression

27th – Vienna (Austria), 12-19 June 1955

28th –  London (England), 8-13 July 1956. The Author and The Public

29th – Tokyo (Japan), 1-9 September 1957. The Reciprocal Influences of the Literatures of the East and the West

30th – Frankfurt (Germany), 19-24 July 1959. Imaginative Literature In The Age of Science

31st – Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 23-30 July 1960. An Interchange of Evaluations of the Cultures of East and West, and of National and International Literature

*32nd – Teheran (Iran), 8-17 April 1963

32nd – Oslo (Norway), 21-27 June 1964. The Writer and Semantics: Literature as Concept, Meaning and Expression

33rd – Bled (Yugoslavia), 2-8 July 1965. The Writer and Contemporary Society

34th – New York (USA), 12-18 June 1966. The Writer As Independent Spirit

35th – Abidjan (Ivory Coast), 30 July to 5 August 1967.  Legends and Mythologies As A Source of Inspiration in Arts and Literature;  Men Between Two Languages; Traditional Values in Societies Undergoing Social Transformation

36th – Menton (France), 14-20 September 1969. Literature in the Age of Leisure

37th – Seoul (South Korea), 28 June to 5 July 1970. Humour in Literature – East and West

38th – Dublin (Ireland), 12-18 September 1971. The Changing Face of Literature:  A Discussion and Evaluation of Developments Over The Past Fifty Years

39th – Jerusalem, 15-22 December 1974. Cultural Heritage and Creativeness in the Literature of Our Times

40th – Vienna (Austria), 16-23 November 1975. Thirty Years of Peace for European Writers

41st – London (England), 22-29 August 1976. The Truth of Imagination

42nd – Sydney (Australia), 11-17 December 1977.  Literature A Bridge Between Asian and European Cultures

43rd – Stockholm (Sweden), 21-27 May 1978. Literature in Disguise

 44th – Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 15-21 July 1979. Literary Expression and Mass Communication; Literature and The Child

45th – Lyon (France), 21-25 September 198. Literature: Hope for a Crisis-Ridden World

46th – Caracas (Venezuela), 25 September to 2 October 1983. Latin American Literature As A Crossroads Between The Old And The New World And Their Literary Trends. Intercultural Exchange As A Source Of Literary Inspiration And Style

47th – Tokyo (Japan), 14-18 May 1984. Literature In The Nuclear Age. Why Do We Write?;  Literary Relations Between East and West – Japanese Literature In The World Today;  Writers and Human Rights

48th – New York (USA), 12-17 June 1986. The Writer’s Imagination And The Imagination Of The State

49th – Hamburg (Germany), 22-27 June 1986. Contemporary History As Reflected In Contemporary Literature

50th – Lugano (Switzerland), 10-17 May 1987. Writers And Border Literature

51st – San Juan (Puerto Rico), 1-5 December 1987. The Hero/Heroine In The Novel Of The Latin Americas

52nd – Seoul (South Korea), 28 August to 2 September 1988. Change And Permanency In Literature In A Rapidly Evolving Society

53rd – Maastricht (The Netherlands), 7-12 May 1989. The End Of Ideologies

54th – Toronto/Montreal (Canada), 23 September to 1 October 1989. The Writer: Freedom And Power

55th – Funchal (Portugal), 6-12 May 1990. Language And Literatures: Unity And Diversity

*56th – Delphi (Greece), 28 April to 4 May 1991.

56th – Vienna (Austria), 3-8 November 1991. New Structures of Freedom: Literature As Diagnosis And Therapy

57th – Barcelona (Spain), 20-26 April 1992. The Writer And Literary Language On The Threshold Of The Third Millennium

58th – Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 29 November to 4 December 1992. Man In Face of Nature

59th – Hvar/Dubrovnik (Croatia), 19-24 April 1993. Place and Destiny

60th – Santiago de Compostela (Spain), 6-12 September 1993. Roads of Literature

61st – Prague (Czech Republic), 7-11 November 1994. Literature and Tolerance

62nd – Fremantle (Western Australia), 26 October to 1 November 1995. Contexts of Freedom: Freedom of Expression and Cultural Diversity

63rd – Guadalajara (Mexico), 7-13 November 1996. Literature and Democracy

64th – Edinburgh (Scotland), 5-11 August 1997. Identity and Diversity

65th – Helsinki (Finland), 6-11 September 1998. Freedom and Indifference

66th – Warsaw (Poland), 15-20 June 1999. Farewell to the Twentieth Century

67th – Moscow (Russia), 22-28 May 2000. Freedom of Criticism – Criticism of Freedom

 *68th – Ohrid (Macedonia), 25 September to 5 October, 2001. (cancelled)

68th – Ohrid (Macedonia), 17-24 September 2002. Borders of Freedom/Freedom of Borders

69th – Mexico City (Mexico), 22-28 November 2003. Cultural Diversity and Freedom of Expression

70th – Tromsø (Norway), 6-12 September 2004. Writers in Exile – Writers in Minority Languages

71st – Bled (Slovenia), 14-21 June 2005. The Tower of Babel: a Blessing or a Curse?, Language of Peace: Literature as a Lingua Franca, Literature as a Safeguard of the Cultural Landscape

72nd – Berlin (German), 22-28 May 2006. Writing in a World Without Peace

73rd – Dakar (Senegal), 4-11 July 2007. The World and Human Values

74th – Bogotá (Colombia), 17-22 September 2008. The Role of the Word

75th – Linz (Austria), 19-25 October 2009. Words, words, nothing but words

76th – Tokyo (Japan), 25 September to 1 October 2010. The Environment and Literature – What can words do?

77th – Belgrade (Serbia), 12-18 September 2011. Literature – Language of the World

78th –  Gyeongju (Korea), 9-14 September 2012. Literature, Media and Human Rights

79th – Reykjavík (Iceland), 9-12 September 2013. Digital Frontiers: Linguistic Rights and Freedom of Speech

80th – Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), 29 September to 2 October 2014. My language, my story, my freedom

81st – Quebec City (Canada), 13-16 October 2015. Translation = Creation = Freedom

82nd – Ourense (Spain), 26 September – 2 October 2016. Building literary bridges

83rd – Lviv (Ukraine), 18-22 September 2017. Reclaiming Truth in Times of Propaganda

84th – Pune (India), 25-29 September 2018. Experiments with Truth: Freedom, Truth, and Diversity

85th – Manila (Philippines), 30 September to 4 October 2019. Speaking in Tongues: Literary Freedom and the Indigenous Languages

86th – Online, 2-6 November 2020. Freedom of Expression in the Time of Pandemic

87th – Online, 20-25 September 2021.100 Years of Celebrating Literature and Protecting Freedom of Expression

Histoire du congrès du PEN

Par PEN International

Le premier Congrès international annuel a eu lieu à Londres en 1923. Dès le début, comme l’a noté John Galsworthy, le club fondateur de Londres (aujourd’hui English PEN Centre) a servi de centre autour du quel chaque Centre nouvellement créé ‘va à sa guise en termes d’égalité parfaite’. Pour faire de cet idéal fédéraliste une réalité, le PEN a établi une tradition de congrès annuels, organisés chaque année dans une ville différente, à commencer par Londres, en 1923.

Des exemples importants de décisions prises lors des congrès ont été celle d’engager PEN dans la solidarité littéraire internationale au Congrès de New York en 1924 et l’approbation des principes fondateurs de PEN au Congrès de Bruxelles en 1927.

Le congrès annuel du PEN International offre l’occasion à l’ensemble de la communauté du PEN de se rencontrer et de parler du travail de l’organisation.

Cette assemblée générale annuelle rassemble les membres de tous les Centres PEN une fois par an (généralement de fin septembre à début octobre), tout d’abord pour effectuer des tâches essentielles, telles que l’approbation des résolutions, les élections générales, les réunions des comités et le vote sur les nouveaux Centres, mais son importance va bien au-delà de cette fonction. Le congrès nous aide à renforcer nos réseaux et nos liens, à consolider et à affiner nos principes fondamentaux par la discussion, le débat et l’adoption de résolutions, à échanger des expériences et des idées, à célébrer l’écriture sous toutes ses formes et, plus simplement, à prendre ou à reprendre contact avec d’anciens et de nouveaux amis et collègues.

Le programme culturel et littéraire constitue une partie importante de chaque congrès, où tous les participants peuvent découvrir les traditions littéraires locales et leurs principaux protagonistes. Des événements sont organisés pour le grand public, notamment des panels de discussion, des présentations, des tables rondes sur différents thèmes liés à la liberté d’expression, et des lectures littéraires.

Chaque congrès est hébergé par un Centre PEN qui travaille avec le bureau international à l’élaboration d’un programme de manifestations littéraires en marge du congrès annuel, qui reflète la diversité des membres de PEN.

Chaque congrès se voit également attribuer un axe thématique, dont décide le Centre PEN hôte et qui reflète souvent les questions qui revêtent le plus d’importance pour les membres de ce Centre. Parmi les thèmes récents, on peut citer les suivants : « Liberté d’expression en temps de pandémie », 2020 (le premier congrès international numérique) and « Le parler en langues : la liberté littéraire et les langues autochtones », 2019 (Manille, Philippines, organisé par le Centre PEN philippin).

Avec le congrès de 2021, PEN célèbre cent ans de promotion de la littérature et de protection de la liberté d’expression.


Historia del Congreso de PEN

Por PEN International

El primer Congreso Internacional anual se celebró en Londres en 1923. Desde el principio, como señaló John Galsworthy, el club londinense fundador (hoy English PEN Centre) sirvió como el centro alrededor del cual cada Centro recién creado ‘va como le plazca en términos de perfecto igualdad’. Para hacer realidad este ideal federalista, PEN estableció una tradición de congresos anuales, que se celebran cada año en una ciudad diferente, comenzando con Londres en 1923.

Ejemplos importantes de decisiones tomadas en Congresos fueron el de comprometer a PEN con la solidaridad literaria internacional en el Congreso de Nueva York en 1924 y la aprobación de los principios fundacionales de PEN en el Congreso de Bruselas de 1927.

El Congreso Internacional de PEN anual ofrece una oportunidad para que toda la comunidad de PEN se conozca y hable sobre el trabajo de la organización.

Esta reunión reúne a miembros de todos los Centros PEN una vez al año (generalmente desde finales de septiembre hasta principios de octubre), en primer lugar para realizar trabajos importantes como la aprobación de resoluciones, elecciones generales, reuniones de comités y votación de nuevos Centros, pero su importancia se extiende mucho más allá de esto. función. El Congreso nos ayuda a fortalecer nuestras redes y conexiones; reforzar y perfeccionar nuestros principios fundamentales mediante la discusión, el debate y la aprobación de resoluciones; intercambiar experiencias e ideas; celebrar la escritura en todas sus formas; así como simplemente ponerse al día con viejos y nuevos amigos y colegas.

La cultura y el programa literario son una parte importante de cada Congreso, donde todos los participantes pueden conocer las tradiciones literarias locales y sus principales protagonistas. Se organizan eventos para el público en general que incluyen paneles de discusión, presentaciones, mesas redondas sobre diferentes temas relacionados con la libertad de expresión y lecturas de literatura.

Cada Congreso es organizado por un Centro PEN que trabaja con la Oficina Internacional (llamada “la Secretaría”) en Londres para desarrollar un programa de eventos literarios junto con el Congreso anual, que refleja la diversidad de miembros de PEN.

Cada Congreso también recibe un enfoque temático, que es decidido por el Centro PEN anfitrión y, a menudo, refleja los temas que son de mayor importancia para los miembros de ese Centro en particular. Los temas recientes han incluido ‘Libertad de expresión en tiempos de pandemia’, 2020 (el primer Congreso Digital Internacional) y ‘Hablar en lenguas: libertad literaria y las lenguas indígenas’, 2019 (Manila, Filipinas, organizado por el Philippine Center).

El Congreso de 2021 marca 100 años de escritores que promueven la literatura y protegen la libertad de expresión en todo el mundo.