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PEN Teaching Guides

The PEN Teaching Guides contain materials for the use of instructors to support teaching on human rights, politics, literature, and cultural history. These materials include manuscripts, drafts, clippings, correspondence, official publications, books, posters, video recordings, and additional items from the PEN Digital Collections and related collections held at the Harry Ransom Center.

These guides are designed to allow students to engage not only with evolving conversations surrounding human rights and free speech in the twentieth century, but also with landmark events and broad historical trends, from the rise of fascism in the interwar years, through the intensification of the Cold War, and into the era following the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in the late 1980s and 1990s.

For further information on teaching or scheduling classes in the Harry Ransom Center, visit Classroom Experiences.

Teaching Guides Classroom Experiences

Produced with suppport from National Endowment for the Humanities.

These teaching guides were written by Reid Echols and Adrienne Sockwell with help from Jennifer Follen, Sarah Gutberlet, Christopher Mendez, and Chido Muchemwa.

International Human Rights Writers and Free Speech Writers in Exile / Global Refugees Writing the Cold War Writing World War II Digital Collections

Writing the Cold War

Origins of the Cold War Strategy for Non-Political Activism

As an organization initially founded as a social society to foster free expression for a select literary community, PEN eventually found itself committed to protecting the rights of a global community of writers. As their mission evolved, PEN founders believed that they could intervene on behalf of writers in the midst of some of the most contentious and controversial events, such as decolonization, and world war and its political and social aftermath—without identifying itself as a political organization. PEN's identity as a human rights organization changed over time, as the political climate changed and as writers around the world required more protection and specific kinds of diplomatic intervention.

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Letter from Hermon Ould to Noel Streatfeild regarding request to speak at PEN dinner. December 19, 1938.

PEN Records 67.5

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Letter from Noel Streatfeild to Hermon Ould, "PEN is synonymous with no politics." June 23, 1939.

PEN Records 67.5

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Letter from Noel Streatfeild to Hermon Ould with enclosure from the Spanish Writers Relief Committee. June 16, 1939.

PEN Records 67.5


Sites of Struggle – PEN Geographies

Cold War struggles arose in many different places around the world, at times as a contest between superpowers, and at other times as a clash between cultures or political ideologies. In the years following World War II, PEN tried to intervene in places that were already historically marked by processes such as decolonization. Nations such as South Africa, Cuba, and Vietnam faced a unique set of social and political challenges resulting from the remnants of their relationships with imperial powers. In many places PEN worked to ensure a forum for writers' voices and their free expression amid the residues of racial hierarchy and political corruption left behind after the war.

For example, PEN International Secretary Hermon Ould worked tirelessly, with other members, to place a PEN centre in South Africa. As envisioned, this centre would acknowledge the contribution of South African writers, and would serve to counter the idea that all literature that emerged from the region centered on themes of colonization. But while the centre was praised as a unique accomplishment among PEN members, it did not renounce the structures of racial hierarchy and apartheid which divided the country and its literature.

South Africa

These materials document PEN's recognition of the need for a centre in South Africa, but they also reveal some of the tensions present in its negotiations with existing political conditions in the country. By the time of the Cold War, PEN began taking small steps to address societal inequalities, soliciting book donations for students who had been excluded from opportunities due to gross inequalities inherent in a system of racial apartheid. In the PEN News call for book donations, the author includes the language that would have been used at the time, and refers to "non-white" school children, as PEN makes an effort to address inequality. However, by encouraging the founding of a centre in the Afrikaans language—a language with an exclusionary and hegemonic history—and by failing to acknowledge black writers for the first two decades of the South African Centre's existence, PEN missed an opportunity to use its influence on behalf of a wider range of African literatures, or to use its platform to discourage apartheid. These materials open up discussions regarding how PEN's presence could both signal change and simultaneously maintain a status quo. Students might ask, for example, what it means for an international organization to focus first and foremost on literature in the languages of colonial powers.

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Letter from Dorothea Fairbridge to John Galsworthy. June 21, 1927.

PEN Records 54.2

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Letter from the Acting Secretary of London PEN to Mrs. Percy Leake. Circa 1925.

PEN Records 54.2

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Letter from Hermon Ould to Lily Tobias. February 22, 1944.

PEN Records 54.2

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Letter from Hermon Ould to Eric Rosenthal. August 14, 1945.

PEN Records 54.2

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"The South African Book World: A Book Exhibition at South Africa House," clipping from South Africa. July 27, 1946.

PEN Records 79.10

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"S.A. Author Analyses Hofmeyr's Ideals," press clipping from Natal Mercury, Durban, South Africa. January 25, 1949.

PEN Records 79.10

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"Books for South African Non-White Schools," announcement in PEN News, No. 201. Autumn 1962.

PN 121 P22


Cuba

The effort to place a PEN centre in Cuba continued for decades and finally came to fruition in 1945. Some of the correspondence in the collection reveals a fascination with the people and the place. PEN International President Arthur Miller even acknowledged that holding a PEN congress in Cuba would satisfy an American curiosity about what "goes on over there," situating Cuba as both a site of contention as a potential USSR satellite, but also as a geographical and racial "other."

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Letter from Arthur Miller to David Carver. November 24, 1967.

PEN Records 154.2

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"Campaign on Cuba: Recommended Actions," a handout from the PEN International Writers in Prison Committee. June 1997.

PEN Records 243.3

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"Dangerous Writers": Freedom of Expression in Cuba, a report from the PEN International Writers in Prison Committee. May 1997.

PEN Records 243.3


Vietnam

In the late 1960s and 1970s, at the height of the Vietnam War, known by the Vietnamese as the American War, PEN International President Arthur Miller and PEN International Secretary David Carver tried to protect writers, prevent persecution, and publicly protest abuses. They struggled to calibrate their intervention into international affairs of state, understanding PEN's mission as an apolitical rights group but participating in overtly political conditions.

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Letter from Nghiêm Xuân Thiện to David Carver. March 16, 1968.

PEN Records 154.4

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"South Vietnam Bloody New Year," a newsletter by Nghiêm Xuân Thiện. 1968.

PEN Records 154.4

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First-hand account by unidentified author for The Deer Hunter research. January 24, 1966.

Robert DeNiro Papers Box 45.3

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The Nine Dragons Hymn: Ten Poems from Vietnam with Original Texts in Vietnamese, by Nghiêm Xuân Việt. 1966.

PEN Records 154.4

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Letter from David Carver to Vũ Hoàng Chương. May 4, 1966.

PEN Records 154.4

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Telegram from David Carver to Nguyễn Ngọc Thơ, Prime Minister of South Vietnam. November 4, 1963.

PEN Records 154.4

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Declaration from the PEN Vietnam Centre. December 30, 1965.

PEN Records 154.4

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"Notes on Authorship in Vietnam," by Bernard Newman. June 24, 1953.

PEN Records 154.4


PEN Middle East Pre-war and Post-war Efforts

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PEN Dinner Menu, Cairo, Egypt. February 27, 1935.

PEN Records 77.5

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"Jerusalem as a Congress City," advertisement by Y. Rischin, reprinted from Israel Economist Annual, 1951.

PEN Records 78.8

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"Jerusalem Convention Centre: New Venue for World Conferences, Festivals, and Exhibitions," brochure by Alexander Ezer, reprinted from Israel & Middle East, No. 6-7. December 1950.

PEN Records 78.8


PEN Contesting Global Dominance: U.S. vs. USSR-centered Conflict

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Letter from Arthur Miller to David Carver. October 22, 1967.

PEN Records 154.2

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"Arthur Miller Tangles with LBJ," newspaper clipping from The Guardian. September 28, 1965.

PEN Records 154.2

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Mike Wallace Interview with Henry Kissinger. July 13, 1958.

Mike Wallace Interview Collection HRC_WAL0036

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The Atomic Submarine, movie poster. 1959.

Interstate Theater Circuit Collection 01334

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Report on the 24th International Congress, Nice, France: Monday, June 16th, Morning Session, reprinted in PEN News, No. 181. November 1952.

PN 121 P22

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"Who is hindering contact between writers?," report by the Soviet Writers Union in Literaturnaya Gazeta. July 28, 1966.

PEN Records 154.1


PEN and Commercial Pressures

By the 1950s PEN, like the rest of the country, was faced with the conundrum of peace versus prosperity. The "booming" American economy introduced both new possibilities and new kinds of commercial, consumer, and cultural pressures. As more American families were pushed to consume and more employee productivity was measured, and technologies like television became pervasive, some Americans began to contemplate the morality of mass consumption. For an organization like PEN, historically wedded to a certain set of literary standards, the idea of mass consumption, and the concept of the commercially successful writer forced PEN to contend with a high-culture versus low-culture dilemma. Is commercially successful writing still considered literature? How does PEN struggle to remain relevant to and for writers at this time of economic upheaval and social change?

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"Screenplay and Literature," lecture reprinted in PEN News, No. 155. May 1948.

PN 121 P22

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"Writing for television," advertisement in PEN News, No. 199. Autumn 1960.

PN 121 P22

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Executive Suite, movie poster. 1954.

Interstate Theater Circuit Collection 01286

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"BBC Notes on Radio Drama," a guide from the British Broadcasting Corporation. 1970.

PEN Records 205.3


PEN and the Prospect of Global Citizenship: Are Writers Bound by Nation or Language?

We can learn about PEN's trajectory as a human rights organization by looking not only at the places in which it chose to intervene, but also at the places it did not. Countries such as Vietnam and the USSR serve as logical places of inquiry, but what can we determine about places that PEN did not represent or in which it did not open centres? Even when PEN did choose to locate a centre in a geographic location, how did PEN work around social and political restrictions such as racial hierarchy in South Africa, or political and class division in Southeast Asia? While PEN was actively defending the rights of writers around the world, it was also complicit in a set of global politics which determined what qualifies as literature. Their decision to open a centre in South Africa recognizes a certain kind of literary diversity, but it also priveleges European concepts of literature, which include a particular set of ideas and literary conventions, while simultaneously excluding other writers on the basis of race, gender, or nationality. The following examples demonstrate that at certain historical moments PEN privileged a particular type of national literature – only Afrikaans in South Africa – or ignored literature from places such as Cambodia and Laos.

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Speech delivered by Hermon Ould at the 23rd International Congress, reprinted in PEN News, No. 177. October 1951.

PN 121 P22

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Letter from Mona Adams to PEN International Secretary. March 9, 1987.

PEN Records 205.3

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Letter from Liz Hartford to Josephine Pullein-Thompson. January 7, 1988.

PEN Records 205.3


What Does It Mean to Claim a National Literature?
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Opening Statement by Lily Tobias for a meeting of the South African PEN Club at the Carleton Hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa. February 28, 1945.

PEN Records 54.2

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Letter from Bernard Newman to David Carver. June 24, 1953.

PEN Records 154.4


We have attempted to minimize harm or adverse impact by selecting primary sources that we believe will not place people at risk. Please notify us at reference@hrc.utexas.edu if you believe we need to remove any materials from this digital collection.

Takedown Notice: This material is made available for education and research purposes. The Harry Ransom Center does not own the rights for these items; it cannot grant or deny permission to use this material. Copyright law protects unpublished as well as published materials. Rights holders for these materials may be listed in the WATCH file. It is your responsibility to determine the rights status and secure whatever permission may be needed for the use of any item. Due to the nature of archival collections, rights information may be incomplete or out of date. We welcome updates or corrections. Upon request, we'll remove material from public view while we address a rights issue.