About Us

John Ralston Saul from PEN Australia on Vimeo.

PEN International, the worldwide association of writers, emphasises the role of literature in mutual understanding and world culture; and promotes literature in various ways, including opposing restraints on freedom of expression and working to promote literacy itself. Today International PEN has 144 centres in 102 countries across the globe, and is a powerful voice on behalf of writers harassed, imprisoned and sometimes murdered because of the words they write.

Sydney PEN, an affiliate of PEN International, is an association of Australian writers and readers, publishers and human rights activists. We interpret the PEN Charter as being open to all those who support the work of writers, editors and translators. Current or prospective members can read our Statement of Objects and download our Constitution, most recently amended in 2005.

We are joined in Australia by Melbourne PEN and Adelaide PEN.

Freedom to write…freedom to read

Sydney PEN Centre defends freedom of expression: campaigning on behalf of writers who have been silenced by persecution or imprisonment, and promoting the written word in all its forms.

Sydney PEN’s mission is to:

  • be an authoritative source on matters of free expression in Australia and internationally;
  • campaign on behalf of writers who are silenced by persecution, exile or imprisonment;
  • promote the written word.

Sydney PEN’s objectives are to:

  • speak publicly on matters of freedom of expression, particularly those concerning Australia and the Asia and Pacific region;
  • undertake public letter campaigns to Australian diplomats, foreign ambassadors and governments on behalf of imprisoned writers in the Asia Pacific region;
  • engage in community events focused on literature, literacy and freedom of expression;
  • promote the Empty Chair campaign to raise public awareness of imprisoned writers;
  • promote Indigenous literacy in Australia;
  • promote translations as a means to foster international understanding, particularly in our region.

How did PEN begin?



International PEN – which stands for “Poets, Essayists and Novelists” – was founded in 1921 by English novelist Amy Dawson Scott. Its first president was John Galsworthy, and early members included J.M. Barrie, G.K. Chesterton, Rebecca West, Robert Frost, H.G. Wells, Joseph Conrad and George Bernard Shaw.

Sydney PEN was founded in 1931 by Ethel Turner, Mary Gilmore, and Dorothea Mackellar. PEN centres spread rapidly across the world and today there are local centres throughout Asia and the South Pacific, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and North and South America.

In November 2004, Sydney PEN, as part of the Australian PEN network, won the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Community Award for its work with asylum seeker writers held in Australian detention centres.

PEN now includes journalists, playwrights, publishers, and translators, as well as readers who support PEN’s ideals.

The tradition of distinguished writers being members of PEN continues to this day.
 Among our members around the world are Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Nadine Gordimer, Tom Stoppard, Arthur Miller, Toni Morrison, Kenzaburo Oe. The late Harold Pinter and Susan Sontag were PEN members. 

Sydney PEN‘s Life Members include Mabel Lee, David Malouf, Frank Moorhouse, Thomas Keneally and Dr Rosie Scott. 

PEN 2012 Accounts

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