Make Space campaign is officially launched!

The PEN International team are now back in London, after an energising week at our joint conference with ICORN 'In Other Words' in Lillehammer last week.

On May 31, at the meeting's opening event, Jennifer Clement and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o formally launched PEN International's Make Space campaign. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o read our Mission Statement to the assembled writers and guests, many of whom are signatories and have long been dedicated to this work: whether through ICORN, their local PEN Centre, or as writers who are themselves living and working in exile. Other speakers included the Mayor of Lillehammer, who read from Martin Niemöller's famous poem 'First they came...' & other distinguished guests. All of the speakers commented on the current global climate, on rising nationalistic and xenophobic sentiment, and on the need for community, unity, and empathy within literary communities.

After the launch reception delegates and members of the public gathered at the Maihaugsalen, for an evening of culture. Performers included Khaled Harara and Said Mohsen Hosseini.

Jennifer Clement's speech, which launched the campaign can be found below. Other reports, toolkits, and interviews - seeded at the conference - will be posted on our blog in the coming days.

‘Good evening. My name is Jennifer Clement & I am the President of PEN International. It is – as ever, for us – a great joy to be collaborating with ICORN for the PEN WIPC conference, and I’m really happy to welcome you all tonight. We’ve also been delighted to partner with the Norwegian festival of Literature, and I would like to extend my thanks both to them, and to our conference host Lillehammer city, as well as our PEN hosts, Norwegian PEN. It is only in collaboration with all of these partnerships that this event has been possible, so to all of them and to ICORN: Tusen takk.

This evening has additional resonance for PEN International, as today we launch a new global campaign, Make Space.

This Make Space campaign aims to create opportunities for writers like those that ICORN works with: writers living in exile, or who have been displaced from their homes. This work sits deep in the heart and history of PEN, as we have a long past of working with refugee writers, and in defending truth through storytelling, even when that act of speaking out or writing out has resulted in displacement.

As many of you in this room know, it’s fitting that we are launching this campaign in Norway. Norwegian PEN & ICORN’s dedication to working with writers in exile is unparalleled and an astonishing legacy to continue as we rise to meet this challenge together and Make Space.

PEN is an organisation defined by the writers in our membership. That’s why in 1933 – rallied into action by renowned German writer Ernst Toller – PEN became one of the first international organisations to oppose the Nazis, and to fight their burning of the books. It’s also why – when Toller and his contemporaries - writers who were Jewish, or gay, or openly opposing facism - fled Germany for London, PEN started it’s now well-established tradition of creating Centres, spaces, and homes for writers in exile. It’s why our Charter calls on all of our members to fight prejudice and hatred: because our writers believe in and have always stood for equality and free speech, tolerance and openness.

Our writers are also the reason that this campaign has at its heart a mission statement signed by hundreds of writers from around the world, including - of course - many of you in the room tonight. And so, as I declare our Make Space campaign officially launched this evening, it is a great honour to welcome one of the best writers of our times – Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o – to read this statement now. Before I do so, I just want to state how moved I am to be here at this historic moment, which connects hundreds of countries where we have PEN Centres, hundreds of language communities, and thousands of writers, coming together and joining efforts to make space: celebrating displaced writers, challenging xenophobia, and fighting to protect the human rights of displaced communities around the world. Thank you for listening, and please join me in putting your hands together now as we welcome Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o in reading our Make Space mission statement.’