The acclaimed South African born novelist, playwright and memoirist Gillian Slovo was last night elected the 25th President of English PEN, the writers’ charity that promotes the freedom to write. She takes over from Lisa Appignanesi, who has served as President since 2007. Gillian Slovo said:
I am extremely honoured to have been elected President of English PEN. As number 25 in a long line of brilliant Presidents, not least my immediate successor Lisa Appignanesi who has achieved so much, I look back to the great successes of the past, including English PEN’s recent ‘No Offence’ campaign and its ongoing campaign to reform the libel laws – and also to a future in which English PEN will continue to be at the forefront of the defence of free expression in this country and throughout the world.
Previous Presidents of English PEN, which was founded in 1921, include John Galsworthy, HG Wells, Rosamond Lehmann, Stephen Spender and Antonia Fraser. Gillian Slovo was elected unanimously by English PEN’s membership of more than one thousand writers and literary professionals. Lisa Appignanesi said:
It has been both exhilarating and demanding to serve as Deputy and then President of English PEN during a historical moment when the free expression of writers, journalists, and satirists has once more been so severely tried. The fall-out from the so-called ‘war on terror’ unleashed a new spirit made up in equal parts of timidity and prohibition. To mollify religious groups, our legislators attempted to criminalise offence. Meanwhile, authoritarian groups and regimes prohibited any expression which bore the whiff of criticism. All this was severely at odds with the new freedoms the virtual sphere permitted. I take huge pride in the way English PEN has met these challenges, mobilising the wit and wisdom of writers, taking their united voice to parliamentarians here and, in protest, to repressive or corrupt regimes from China to Cuba. Together we managed to nullify the British government’s attempt to make writing about religion an ‘offence’; we helped rid our statute books of obsolete blasphemy and defamation laws, and we propelled the move to reform our libel laws. Abroad, we campaigned for Liu Xiaobo and Aung San Suu Kyi amongst hosts of less well-known others. I shall miss this vibrant and crucial association of writers. I know that Gillian Slovo, our wonderful new President, will guide English PEN with great panache and steady intelligence.
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