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This panel brings together scholars, writers, and activists to discuss the political interventions of the non-governmental international writers’ organisation PEN. It will address, among other issues, the complex relationship between writers, the state, and transnational cultural organisations; the interplay of individual and collective agency; as well as PEN’s role in shaping ideas of the writer’s social responsibility and cultural authority in different historical and geo-political contexts. The event will feature contributions by Peter D. McDonald (University of Oxford), Margie Orford (former President of PEN South Africa), Rachel Potter (University of East Anglia), Carles Torner (Executive Director of PEN International), and Laetitia Zecchini (CNRS Paris).
Peter D. McDonald is Professor of English and Related Literature at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of St Hugh’s College. He writes on literature, the modern state and the freedom of expression; the history of writing systems, cultural institutions and publishing; multilingualism, translation and interculturality; and on the promise of creative criticism. His main publications include British Literary Culture and Publishing Practice, 1888-1914 (CUP, 1997), The Literature Police: Apartheid Censorship and its Cultural Consequences (OUP, 2009, theliteraturepolice.com), and Artefacts of Writing: Ideas of the State and Communities of Letters from Matthew Arnold to Xu Bing (OUP, 2017, artefactsofwriting.com).
Margie Orford is the author of the internationally acclaimed Clare Hart novels, which have been translated into ten languages. The series is currently being developed as a television series. She is a Fulbright scholar with an MA in Comparative Literature from the City University of New York and a PhD from the University of East Anglia, Norwich. She is an honorary fellow at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, was a judge in 2019 for the AKO Caine Prize for African Literature, was president of PEN South Africa and on the board of PEN International, and is a co-author of the PEN International Women’s Manifesto (https://pen-international.org/who-we-are/manifestos/the-pen-international-womens-manifesto). Her memoir, Jumping Ship, will be published in 2021. You can find her on Twitter: @MargieOrford
Rachel Potter is Professor of Modern Literature at the University of East Anglia. She writes on literature and censorship, free expression and writers’ organisations, modernist literature and early twentieth-century culture. She has been exploring the early history of International PEN for a number of years, research which is central to her forthcoming book, Literary Activism: Writers’ Organisations and Free Expression. Her published books include Obscene Modernism: Literary Censorship and Experiment 1900-1940 (OUP, 2013), The Edinburgh Guide to Modernist Literature (EUP, 2012), and Modernism and Democracy: Literary Culture 1900-1930 (OUP, 2006). She is co-editing The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century Literature & Politics (with Christos Hadjiyiannis, forthcoming 2021).
Carles Torner, a leading Catalan writer and human rights activist, is currently Executive Director of PEN International. He has participated in several missions for imprisoned writers and has published essays and poems about PEN’s defense of freedom of expression across the world. Before joining PEN as Executive Director, he was director of the Literature and Humanities Department at the Ramon Llull Institute, where he was in charge of the presence of Catalan literature as guest of honour at the Frankfurt book fair and the Guadalajara International book fair. He holds a PhD from the university of Paris VIII and was a lecturer in Communication and International Relations at Blanquerna, Universitat Ramon Llull, in Barcelona.
Laetitia Zecchini is a research fellow at the CNRS in Paris and visiting scholar at Boston University. She writes on contemporary Indian poetry, on postcolonial modernisms, and the politics of literature. She is the author of a monograph on the poet Arun Kolatkar, whom she has translated into French, and has recently co-edited “The Worlds of Bombay Poetry” (Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 2017) and “The Locations of (World) Literature: Perspectives from Africa and South Asia” (Journal of World Literature, 2019). She is co-investigator of the AHRC-funded project “Writers and Free Expression”, is currently researching the history of the PEN All-India Center, and working on a book around issues of cultural / literary freedom and the poetics and politics of modernism in Cold War India.
This series of webinars is convened by Sandra Mayer (University of Vienna / Oxford Centre for Life-Writing, firstname.lastname@example.org) and Ruth Scobie (Mansfield College, Oxford, email@example.com), and is supported by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) in collaboration with The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing (OCLW), Postcolonial Writers Make Worlds, and The Stephen Spender Trust.