Fascist university students burned upwards of 25,000 books on the Opernplatz (Opera Square) in Berlin, Germany, on May 10, 1933. PEN International, long relentless in the fight for freedom of speech, is meeting this week in Quebec's capital. The black-and-white photo shows a huge pile of books aflame in the right foreground. Surrounding the the pyre are people dressed in military uniforms and  others in civilian dress. Many of the civilians have their right hands raised in the Nazi salute. The military figures stand at attention, one is saluting.

Fascist university students burned upwards of 25,000 books on the Opernplatz (Opera Square) in Berlin, Germany, on May 10, 1933. PEN International, long relentless in the fight for freedom of speech, is meeting this week in Quebec's capital.
Photo Credit: cbc.ca

Long a defender of freedom, PEN International meets in Quebec City

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Some 250 writers and intellectuals from over 80 countries are in Quebec City this week. They are attending the 81st PEN International Congress.

La Maison de la littérature de Québec (above) is being inaugurated this week to coincide with PEN's conference in the old capital. We see a the interior of the Maison with a couple dressed in casual sports clothes in the foreground looking about. The interior is a bright white and writ large in blocks on the floor and overhangs. The windows in the background are the shape of the stained-glass windows we see in a church, though they appear to be largely transparent.
La Maison de la littérature de Québec (above) is being inaugurated this week to coincide with PEN’s conference in the old capital. © ici.radio-canada.ca

This is on small matter.

Through its annual congresses, PEN International seeks to offer a forum where writers meet freely to discuss their work; it is also a voice for writers who are silenced in their own countries.

What started out as a relatively benign fellowship of of poets, essayists and novelists in London in 1921 has evolved into one of fiercest defenders of human rights and freedoms in the world.

PEN International is, in fact, both the oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization on the planet.

It includes 20,000 poets, essayists, authors, translators, journalists, and historians with autonomous International PEN centres in over 100 countries. Its president is the Canadian author, essayist and philosopher John Ralston Saul.

John Ralston Saul, a Canadian, is president of PEN International. We see Mr. Saul sitting behind a microphone. Balding but still retaining much of the blond in his hair, his face is deeply lined with babs under his eyes. He has something of a sad look on his face.
John Ralston Saul, a Canadian, is president of PEN International. © cbc.ca

The Quebec City meeting is being hosted by PEN Quebec and is just the second time the organization has met in Canada, following a meeting in Montreal and Toronto in 1989.

World-renowned writers such as Paul Auster and Umberto Eco are expected in Quebec City, as are–among many others–a number of Canadian and Quebec literary figures, including Margaret Atwood, Robert Lepage, Michel Tremblay, Yann Martel and Dany Laferriere.

Taking part as well is Tasleem Thawar, the executive director of PEN Canada, an organization, which according to its mission statement, “envisions a world where writers are free to write, readers are free to read, and freedom of expression prevails.”

Ms. Thawar spoke by phone to RCI on Monday while in route to Quebec City.

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One comment on “Long a defender of freedom, PEN International meets in Quebec City
  1. Avatar tbsbet says:

    Even today, women Authors will either use their initials and or use a male pen name. An example would