English PEN’s Centenary Features Adichie, Shafak, Thiong’o, Dangarembga

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The centerpiece of English PEN’s year-long celebration of its 100th year is September’s three-day program of events in London, featuring leading writers.

The stalls at Southbank Centre in London on a November evening in 2019. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Alena Kravchenko

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Tickets Go on Sale Today
Several familiar personalities from the world of social justice literature will are scheduled to appear during a three-day series of events planned for the 100th anniversary of English PEN.

Early bookings for seats at these events open today (June 22) for Southbank Centre members. On Wednesday (June 23), English PEN members are offered a 10-percent discount on bookings as general-public sales begin. If you buy tickets to three or more of the events, there’s a 25-percent discount.

As the International Publishers Association turns 125, English PEN is observing its 100th anniversary with more branding: “Common Currency” is the name of its umbrella program for the centenary. This three-day program itself is called English PEN 100. The programming, September 24, 25, and 26, is set at London’s Southbank Centre, and generally has the look and feel of a Hay Festival weekend.

Daniel Gorman

In a prepared statement, English PEN director Daniel Gorman is quoted, saying, “For the past 100 years, English PEN has championed freedom of expression and literature across the world.

“This year, as we mark our centenary, we explore and expand on the founding themes of the organization: language and ideas crossing borders, free speech and democracy, and a celebration of women’s voices.”

Gorman speaks of the weekend in September as “an ambitious program at the Southbank Centre that will continue conversations, ideas, debates that we hope will inspire the next 100 years.”

Highlights of the Planned ‘English PEN 100’ Festival

Among those appearing during the ‘English PEN 100’ weekend in September are, upper row from left, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (image: Manny Jefferson); Daniel Hahn (image: John Lawrence); Elif Shafak (image: Oliver Hess); and Hassan Blasim (image: Michael Campanella). Lower row from left, Max Porter (image: Lucy Dickens); Meena Kandasamy (image: Varun Vasudevan); Philippe Sands (image: Antonio Olmos); and Tsitsi Dangarembga (image: Hannah Mentz)

September 24

  • Royal Festival Hall: Author and 2018 PEN Pinter Prize winner Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks with author and columnist Nesrine Malik

September 25

  • Queen Elizabeth Hall: “Why Toni Morrison Matters” with Margaret Busby, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Nadifa Mohamed
  • Queen Elizabeth Hall: “Women Making Change” with Margie Orford, Ahdaf Soueif, Fatima Bhutto and Laura Bates discuss the PEN Women’s Manifesto and PEN founder Catherine Amy Dawson Scott
  • Purcell Hall: “Literature in Exile: Writers and Absence” with Authors Xiaolu Guo, Hassan Blasim, and Edmund de Waal with Georgina Godwin
  • Purcell Hall: “Dear Sister: Poems of Sisterhood and Solidarity,” commissioned writing hosted by Mona Arshi and curated by Rachel Long

September 26

  • Purcell Hall: “The Politics of Translation” with Sasha Dugdale, Meena Kandasamy, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and translator and author Daniel Hahn talk about international writing, decolonizing literature, and the politics of translation
  • Purcell Hall: “Visions of the Future” with Temi Oh, Tade Thompson, and Ellah P. Wakatama on science fiction
  • Queen Elizabeth Hall: “Writers on Solidarity” with Tice Cin, So Mayer, Max Porter, Kit de Waal and Joelle Taylor on the importance of solidarity and literary activism
  • Queen Elizabeth Hall: “Free Expression Now” with English PEN president Philippe Sands speaks with German Book Trade Peace Prize laureate and PEN Pinter Prize winner Tsitsi Dangarembga, with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Elif Shafak on free expression

This “English PEN 100” part of the “Common Currency”-branded year is supported by a National Lottery Project Grant from Arts Council England; the British Council; Cockayne Grants for the Arts, a donor-advised fund of London Community Foundation; and PEN International.

Ted Hodgkinson, the head of literature and spoken word at Southbank, in a quote speaks about the weekend being a reflection “on the pivotal role the organization [English PEN] played for women writers in the UK, for free expression globally, and for readers and writers everywhere.”

Southbank currently is operating some live events with socially distanced seating.

“As the Southbank Centre reopens its doors,” Hodgkinson says, the company looks to September’s “lively and illuminating weekend with some of the world’s most exciting writers.”


More from Publishing Perspectives on the UK book market is here, more on English PEN is here, and more on freedom of expression and the freedom to publish is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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