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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.

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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

International Human Rights

PEN was founded in 1921, predating the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations in 1948. PEN did not always consider itself an international human rights organization. The fact that it became one of the oldest of such organizations was due to a complex set of circumstances and changing international pressures that pushed PEN to act on its writers' behalf. This is not to claim that PEN was a reluctant human rights organization. Instead, it is to acknowledge the many ways PEN sought to alter its mission, and its goals to maintain the commitment to the organization's founding values. The materials in this guide highlight PEN's responses to these pressures, and its interventions in response to a number of human rights issues, from gender-based discrimination, to the suppression of free speech, to the incarceration of dissident writers and activists. By engaging with these materials, students will have the opportunity to track, across many different circumstances, PEN's evolving understanding of itself and of international human rights as a political concept.

Fundamental Values: PEN and Human Rights

While PEN was founded as a social club for English writers, its rapid growth on an international scale soon forced the organization to reckon with the political differences between its increasingly diverse member centres. While John Galsworthy (first President of PEN International and 1932 Nobel laureate in literature) could state in 1932 that PEN "has nothing whatever to do with State or Party politics," the rising crisis of World War II demonstrated the need for the organization to define its political allegiances and principles. These materials offer snapshots of PEN's developing stance towards writers' social and political responsibilities before, during, and after World War II. Students might use these documents not only to understand the history of PEN, but also to consider what political responsibilities are shared by writers, artists, and other public figures, and how these responsibilities are identified or adopted. How does Galsworthy's claim that "PEN stands for humane conduct," for example, transform into an international focus on what we now refer to as "human rights"?

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"What the P.E.N. Is." Opening Remarks by John Galsworthy written for the 10th International PEN Congress, Budapest, Hungary. 1932.

PEN Records 81.3

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"Appeal to the Conscience of the World," letter from PEN London Centre. June 1940.

PEN Records 91.5

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"Fundamental Values," letter to PEN members from PEN London Centre. 1943.

PEN Records 110.3

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"Suggestions for the Sub-Committee on Fundamental Assumptions and Values," proposed program for a PEN symposium. 1943.

PEN Records 110.3


PEN and Politics

As PEN's principles evolved, the organization's commitment to free expression as a fundamental human right came to play a central role in its political negotiations, both internally and in the public eye. Tensions arose between PEN's founding centres in the U.K., America, and Western Europe and centres in countries whose political regimes were often hostile to the ideals being written into the PEN Charter. While PEN's international leadership sought to avoid political conflicts or partisanship, it often had to reckon with contradictions between the organization's core values and the concerns of writers with complex political allegiances. The materials below help illustrate tensions in PEN, both internally (between centres in Soviet countries and those in the West during the Cold War), and externally (between members of "official" PEN centres endorsed by authoritarian regimes and other writers being repressed by these regimes). Students approaching these materials might consider how they illustrate the conflicting values and interests at work in any international organization, and what happens when a commitment to human rights runs up against other organizational priorities, like promoting dialog between opposing nations who disagree on what those rights entail.

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Letter from Agrupación de Intelectuales, Artista, Periodistas y Escritores (A. I. A. P. E.) to delegates of the 14th International PEN Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with Spanish and French translations. September 1936.

PEN Records 83.2

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Proceedings and Resolution regarding the PEN Hebrew Centre from the 20th International PEN Congress, Copenhagen, Denmark. June 3, 1948.

PEN Records 87.5

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Letter from Hanoch Bartov, President of PEN Israel, to the Editor of Al-Fajr [English Edition]. January 2, 1993.

PEN Records 209.3

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Letter from Friedrich Bruegel, chairman of PEN Centre for Writers in Exile, to David Carver. April 20, 1954.

PEN Records 155.4

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"P.E.N. In The Soviet Union," confidential memorandum of a conversation between Alexandre Blokh and Josephine Pullein-Thompson. April 1987.

PEN Records 257.7


Religious Freedom and Tolerance

These materials illustrate PEN's reckoning with the tension between religious freedom and freedom of speech in the Salman Rushdie crisis of 1989. While PEN centres around the globe denounced the fatwa against Rushdie, debates soon arose in the United Kingdom regarding what happens when a writer's words violate core tenets of a particular religious system. As Muslim groups in the U.K. called for Rushdie's works to be banned under a longstanding anti-blasphemy law, British clerics, politicians, and intellectuals all weighed in on where to set the boundaries between the fundamental human rights of free expression and religious tolerance. Students working with these materials might consider what happens when human rights seem to conflict: who interprets these rights? Who decides what is protected, and what is not? What power dynamics are involved in the decision to defend some liberties at the expense of others?

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"Recommendation on Tolerance and Fanaticism Submitted by the International Secretary," memo for International PEN Assembly of Delegates in Toronto and Montreal. September 1989.

PEN Records 223.1

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Letter from the U.K. Home Office to Francis King regarding U.K. anti-blasphemy laws. October 11, 1989.

PEN Records 262.4

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Presidential Address from the Bishop of Manchester to Diosecan Synod regarding Rushdie death threats. November 25, 1989.

PEN Records 262.4

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Correspondence between Josephine Pullein-Thompson and Michael Knowles, M. P. regarding Salman Rushdie case. February 28—March 21, 1989.

PEN Records 262.3


Protest and Incarceration

These materials mark points of conflict between writers (and organizations like PEN) and governments over the definition, application, and protection of human rights. In the latter half of the twentieth century, PEN repeatedly advocated for writers facing imprisonment, deportation, and even death, at the hands of the political regimes they opposed. From Chinese writers and scholars imprisoned after the Tiananmen Square protests to an American poet and activist at risk of deportation for her support of socialist ideas, these writers' right to free speech was often limited as a result of their advocacy for other human rights being denied by the governments they criticized. These materials offer students an opportunity to consider the fraught relationship between state power and human rights. How does free speech relate to other rights like free movement, equal representation, or economic and environmental justice? How have governments and corporations justified the curtailment of these rights?

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Letter from Chinese Ambassador Ji Chaozhu to Antonia Fraser. September 15, 1989.

PEN Records 242.5

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Correspondence regarding the deportation of Margaret Randall between the PEN American Center, Josephine Pullein-Thompson, and George Shultz, U.S. Secretary of State. January 16, 1986 and February 26th, 1986.

PEN Records 257.7

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"Free Ken Saro-Wiwa," protest information sheet from PEN Writers in Prison Committee. November 9, 1995.

PEN Records 246.4

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Protest sign for PEN Writers in Prison Committee event in support of Ken Saro-Wiwa. Circa 1995.

PEN Records 361.3

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Letter from Shell International to PEN International Chair Joanne Leedom-Ackerman regarding Ken Saro-Wiwa. December 21, 1994.

PEN Records 246.3

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"Report on Five Croatian Women Writers Currently Under Attack," report to International PEN Women Writers' Committee. February 20, 1993.

PEN Records 209.3


Writing on the Silences: What Is Missing?

PEN would have to grapple with a complex set of binaries as it positioned itself as a human rights organization. Some of these include: local versus global, home versus exile, free speech versus dissent. It would also have to contend with conflicts and disagreements that were bound up in other more intractable disputes such as religious conflicts and the legacies of colonialism embedded in racial and gender politics of the time. We can search through the collection and find fierce advocacy for some writers, but no evidence of protection for others.

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"Resolution on South Africa Submitted by the U.S.A. West Centre," for International PEN Assembly of Delegates in Toronto and Montreal. September 1989.

PEN Records 223.1

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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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Two poems by Jacques Roumain, "Guinea" and "When the Tom Tom Beats," and a typescript account about the author. 1935.

PEN Records 77.2


Women's Rights and Expression

PEN expanded the definition of its political and ethical responsibilities in the decades following the Second World War, which saw the creation of a number of new committees aimed at addressing specific international issues. The PEN International Women Writers' Committee was developed in response to a sense that the challenges facing writers around the globe often had a greater urgency for women—particularly those working in countries and cultures with a history of patriarchy and gender-based discrimination. While the formation of the Committee was met with some controversy (see the "Writers and Free Speech" teaching guide for materials that document this), it led to a number of efforts on the behalf of women writers being silenced by their own governments. PEN was largely founded by women, and developed many of its humanitarian programs under the guidance of women officers, including Storm Jameson, Janet Chance, Josephine Pullein-Thompson, and many others. These materials offer a glimpse at contemporary efforts by PEN and other advocacy groups to address ongoing issues of gender discrimination and human rights violations against women. Students might use these materials to explore how discussions of human rights have coincided—and clashed—with those of women's rights and gender equality. How have women been excluded from accessing the rights and privileges extended to men? How do women writers respond to this? What strategies are available to feminist writers and thinkers to combat patriarchy?

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"Women and 'Cyberdissent': Tunisia, Iran and China," PEN Writers in Prison Committee program for Women's Day. March 8, 2005.

PEN Records 248.1

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Letter from Meredith Tax to Members of the International PEN Women Writers' Committee. September 18, 1994.

PEN Records 242.3

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"Draft Program for the 4th World Conference of Women and NGO Forum, Beijing, 1995: Culture and Human Rights." 1995.

PEN Records 242.3

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Letter from Leah Fritz to Josephine Pullein-Thompson regarding Afghan women writers in response to Rushdie case. February 19, 1989.

PEN Records 262.4


Dissidents within PEN: Enforcing the Charter

Part of PEN's development into an international human rights organization was the creation and evolution of the PEN Charter, a document each new member signs upon joining the club. The first official PEN Charter was ratified in 1948, as the organization began to reckon with the aftermath of World War II and the beginnings of the Cold War. Aside from a 2017 amendment extending the "hatreds" which all PEN members must oppose from those of "race, class, and nation" to "all hatreds," the Charter has been a touchstone for the institutional values shaped during World War II. The materials below document the ratification of the Charter and offer examples from PEN's history in which it had to be invoked against members who violated its principles. Students might consider the historical context of the first Charter's ratification, or the political tensions that produced the need to state principles that had previously been merely implicit to the organization. How does the Charter speak to the vast range of cultural difference represented in PEN's global centres? How can documents like this, or the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, cut across international boundaries? What do these documents enable, and what are their shortcomings?

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"P.E.N. Charter," from the 20th International PEN Congress, Copenhagen, Denmark. 1948.

PEN Records 87.5

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Proceedings regarding the ratification of the PEN Charter from the 20th International PEN Congress, Copenhagen, Denmark. June 3, 1948.

PEN Records 87.5

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Correspondence and press clipping related to Gerry Adams's membership in Irish PEN. January 1991.

PEN Records 209.2

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Letter from György Konrád, PEN International President, to Timur Pulatov, President of the Central Asian Republics P.E.N. Centre. January 26, 1993.

PEN Records 209.4


War and Conflict

PEN's modern identity was forged in the conflict of World War II, and the organization would continue to intercede in the many armed conflicts that took place in the years that followed. As PEN ratified its Charter and began to define its role as a human rights organization, advocating for international peace and dialogue among nations became a central part of PEN's mission. This emphasis on peace emerged from the tension between PEN's initial desire to remain out of politics—seen in the organization's refusal to take sides in disputes like the Israeli/Palestinian conflict—and its commitment to combating the suppression of human rights like free speech and political self-determination. The materials below offer a glimpse at a number of late twentieth-century conflicts as they were experienced by PEN and its members. If PEN was not always mightier than the sword, the organization nevertheless worked tirelessly to communicate with heads of state, spread word of attacks and human rights violations, and encourage cultural exchange between warring nations in the pursuit of peace. These items provide students a window into the experience of modern conflict, and invite discussion of the role of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in offering nonviolent responses to violent situations.

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Letter from Boris A. Novak, President of the Slovene P.E.N. Centre, to PEN International. July 2, 1991.

PEN Records 209.2

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Letter from Miloš Mikeln, Chairman of PEN Writers for Peace Committee, to PEN International. June 28, 1991.

PEN Records 209.2

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Letter from Anatoly Rybakov, President of Russian PEN, to PEN International. July 24, 1991.

PEN Records 209.5

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Telegram from English PEN Centre to Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. July 25, 1991.

PEN Records 209.5

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Letter from Anton Fredrik Andresen, President of Norwegian PEN Centre, to President Boris Yeltsin. July 25, 1991.

PEN Records 209.5

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Letter from Nghiêm Xuân Thiện to David Carver and "South Vietnam Bloody New Year," a newsletter by Nghiêm Xuân Thiện. March 16, 1968.

PEN Records 154.4


PEN and NGOs

As PEN evolved, it developed relationships with other international organizations and writers' groups. Its advocacy for writers, human rights, and freedom of expression led to natural partnerships with groups like Article 19, the United Nations, and UNESCO. These relationships offered PEN both financial support and further avenues for influencing governments on behalf of writers around the globe. The materials below highlight some of these partnerships, offering students a chance to observe what roles PEN played in these larger organizations, as well as the limitations faced by a writers' group without governmental affiliation or large amounts of funding. These materials might prompt discussions of the extent to which NGOs are (and are not) able to influence governments and policies to support human rights around the globe.

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Memorandum of agreement between PEN and UNESCO. May 19, 1950.

PEN Records 100.6

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Letter of invitation to PEN/UNESCO Conference: The Writer and the Idea of Freedom. 1950.

PEN Records 100.6

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"Part IV: International PEN" in Report to International PEN on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, 46th Session, Geneva, 29 January to 9 March 1990. March 30, 1990.

PEN Records 242.5

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"Observations Made in Geneva," by PEN Writers in Prison Committee. February 1990.

PEN Records 242.5


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.