Category Archives: Uncategorized

VARAVARA RAO EVENT, 29th September 2021

Join Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann, Scottish PEN and guests

as we share readings and updates on the case of renowned Indian poet, Varavara Rao.

Wednesday 29th September 19.00-20.00

About this event

This free event will provide an overview of Rao’s remarkable life and include readings of poetry he has produced over his decades-long career. We will also provide an update on Rao’s case, and share information about the ways that attendees can demonstrate their support.

The event will be chaired by Professor Ignatius McGovern and will feature a rare opportunity to hear from Rao’s nephew, Venugopal Nellutla, who published ‘The Making of Varavara Rao: An Intimate Portrait by a Nephew‘ in 2020. The event will also include poetry and prose readings from Professor Bashabi Fraser, Leela Soma, June Considine and Kate Ennals.

The event will take place between 7.00pm-8.00pm via Zoom, and joining details will be shared with attendees in advance.

You can register by following this link:

Read a recent statement published by PEN centres in support of Rao:

 Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann is delighted to be hosting this event on Wednesday, 29 September 2021, in partnership with Scottish PEN.

PEN America EVENT: Cracking Down on Creative Voices: Turkey’s Silencing of Writers, Intellectuals and Artists Five Years After the Failed Coup

Tuesday 6/29 | 1pm ET

Since the attempted coup d’état in 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has elevated his attacks on Turkey’s civil society to unprecedented levels, becoming one of the world’s foremost persecutors of freedom of expression. PEN America’s 2020 Freedom to Write Index found that Turkey was the world’s third highest imprisoner of writers and public intellectuals.

Join PEN America, the Project on Middle East Democracy, and members of Turkey’s artistic and activist communities for a discussion on how civil society and policymakers should respond to Erdoğan’s campaign of repression. The discussion will highlight PEN America’s forthcoming report on freedom of expression in Turkey, featuring interviews from members of Turkey’s literary, artistic, and human rights communities, including renowned novelist Aslı Erdoğan. Learn more and register here.


The Board of Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann is delighted to invite all members to a Summer Solstice Zoom party on Monday, 21st June at 7 pm. This is a chance to get to know each other and to celebrate brighter days, even though we can’t yet meet in person.

Everyone is invited to read a very short piece on the theme of Summer (2-3 minutes max.) You are also encouraged to use the chat function to get sociable. Under Covid circumstances, this has to be a BYOB (bring your own bottle) event.

Invitations have gone out by email. If you are interested in coming please REPLY by 18th June so that we can send you a link for the party. Please also state if you will read. We will draw up a programme which will go out with the Zoom link.

We very much hope that you will join us for this light-hearted session. Looking forward to meeting as many of you as possible. Thank you for your support to date.

Letters With Wings: When Art Meets Activism (Imagine! Belfast Festival)

This event, organised by Letters With Wings, was dedicated to the women artists Chimengul Awut (award-winning Uyghur poet) and Nûdem Durak (a folk-musician of Kurdish origin who is a political prisoner in Turkey).

Participants included: Lia Mills (Chair of Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann), Catherine Dunne, Celia de Fréine, Kate Ennals, Moyra Donaldson, Evgeny Shtorn, Gianluca Costantini (activist, cartoonist and visual artist), Antje Stehn (Rucksack, A Global Poetry Patchwork), Simone Theiss (Westminster and Bayswater Amnesty International Group) and Letters with wings’ poet members Nandi Jola, Csilla Toldy and Viviana Fiorentino.  It was a powerful, inspirational evening and a great privilege to be involved at all.

(With thanks to the Imagine! Belfast Festival & its production staff: Richard, Emma, Gillian)


Lia Mills:

First, I want to acknowledge the horrific circumstances and the courage of the two women who this event has been set up to honour, Chimengul Awut and Nudem Durak. I also want to acknowledge what’s happening in Myanmar, where poets and artists are included among the hundreds of people imprisoned and killed during unarmed protests. Other readers will read the work of Burmese poets tonight, I leave that to them.

We take so much for granted, including the simple ability to dial into an event like this and speak freely, without fear of detention, or torture, or the fear of losing everything, our jobs, our homes, our lives.

You might ask, what difference can an event like this make? What is their point? If we are free to speak and other people aren’t, how does one of those facts meet the other?

At its most basic level, an event such as this introduces us to people we might otherwise never hear about – people just like us, except that they live in more oppressive, authoritarian states; people whose freedom can be taken away because they write or say or paint what they think.

What you do with the knowledge you gain here is up to you. The problem might seem too big for ordinary individuals to solve. But one positive step you can take is to decide to write to someone who is in prison, tonight. Maybe someone whose words you will meet for the first time in the next hour.

You may never know the difference your letter makes, but the testimonies of prisoners whose cases are monitored by PEN International tell us that a note or a card from a complete stranger can make the difference between light and darkness in a prison cell, just as art and literature can.


PEN International was founded on the principle of goodwill and fellowship among people who care about literature  and the freedom of expression on which democracy depends. One of the things PEN has become known for is that its members write letters to writers and artists who have been imprisoned because of their work. The same principle is behind Letters With Wings, who have organised this event. (You might consider joining either or both of us.)

So one thing an event like this can do is to tell you –  who are listening – about some of these courageous writers and activists and, importantly, encourage you to reach out and support someone who has been deprived of the kind of freedom we take for granted.

Prisoners report that such letters make all the difference to them during the unending, worrying days when they are cut off from family, friends, their future. It helps to know that people in the wider world know where they are and pay attention to what happens to them. It helps to remember that there is a wider world, waiting for their return.


One question we have been asked to address here is: Why do some governments fear the arts?

I think it’s because the arts nurture and express human faculties that can’t be obliterated by any external force or authoritarian regime: the imagination, the ability to empathise with other people; the capacities for love, hope, faith, idealism.  The arts express what it is to be human in our time and place, and that brings news not everyone wants to hear, news that certain governments in particular want to suppress. So they bring in censorship, intimidation, vexatious lawsuits, punitive laws.

They can try to suppress artistic freedom along with every other kind, but with art that’s harder to do – because the work art does is not always out in the open. Art doesn’t just live in the moment when an image is seen, understood and felt, or when a poem is read. Much of it happens in our minds and hearts, in our imaginations. It takes root in us. It lives on when the moment has passed. You can’t imprison a story, or kill a song.

I’m going to read some examples that demonstrate the extraordinary resilience and power that prisoners find in literature. The writing they continue to do against overwhelming odds is not bitter, or negative; it’s not about recrimination or hatred. These voices soar, they are free. They rise far above their immediate circumstance and call us to join them, if we dare.

To illustrate the principle, here is a poem by Eva Gore Booth, a passionate advocate of the principles of non-violence, written in 1918 to her sister Constance (Markievicz) who was in prison. The sisters had an arrangement that they would think about each other at the same time every day. The poem says that even when we are separated by prison walls, we can reach each other.


The peaceful night that round me flows,
Breaks through your iron prison doors,
Free through the world your spirit goes,
Forbidden hands are clasping yours.

The wind is our confederate,
The night has left her doors ajar,
We meet beyond earth’s barred gate,
Where all the world’s wild Rebels are  Eva Gore-Booth, Broken Glory 1918


Next I’ll read a poem by Ilhan Sami Çomak. Imprisoned in Turkey at the age of 22, 27 years ago. Ilhan is held in solitary confinement.

27 years.  Alone in a cell.

What could he possibly write about? Life, love, light and colour. His mind, his imagination, his words are free. PEN Norway/Norsk PEN are running a brilliant campaign for Ilhan, which includes people writing poems for him, to which he responds with poems of his own.  I urge you to visit the website and learn more (details in the chat).

What Good is Reading Poetry?

It’s good for making hands fine enough to touch silk
And for feeling the moment that stone turns impatient

It’s good for looking in the eyes of hungry cats
And extending curiosity out among all animals

It is the darkness that makes my night voice heard
And makes it easier to say ‘the moon will come up late’

For years my feet have been cold, so cold
When I say this, it helps me compare winter to snow

Spring will begin today, I know
Reading poetry helps me believe that feeling

It reminds me I don’t miss the Istanbul bustle
Lets me know things to tell my love in a letter

When I’m tired, to stop and rest, not to drink water when I sweat,
It helps me to cry and fret over wildfires, over death

To know anger’s reserved just for evil
To stop and ask forgiveness of women

To feel youth when young, to understand it later on,
It’s good for helping me to sit and write new poems

Good for helping me seduce and flatter
Then to kiss my love when the leaves turn yellow
Ilhan Sami Çomak   

Translated by Caroline Stockford (reproduced with permission)


And finally, from writer and journalist Ahmet Altan, currently serving a 10 ½ year sentence in Turkey after being in pre-trial detention for over 3 years (he is 71 years old)

From I Will Never See the World Again

‘I am a writer.
I am neither where I am nor where I am not
Wherever you lock me up I will travel the world with the wings of my infinite mind.
Besides, I have friends all around the world who help me travel, most of whom I have never met.
Each eye that reads what I have written, each voice that repeats my name holds my hand like a little cloud and flies me over the lowlands, the springs, the forests, the seas, the towns and their streets. They host me quietly in their houses, in their halls, in their rooms.
I travel the whole world in a prison cell.
I am writing this in a prison cell.
But I am not in prison.
I am a writer.
I am neither where I am nor where I am not.
You can imprison me but you cannot keep me here.
Because, like all writers, I have magic. I can pass through your walls with ease.’
(Granta. pp. 211-2)


And that, I think, is exactly why certain governments fear the arts.

Thank you.

Details/Useful sites

Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann:  (Website under revision, please be patient.  Current campaigns are listed under “News”)


PEN International:

Free the Poet (Ilhan Sami Çomak)

Ahmet Altan I Will Never See the World Again (Granta, 2019)

Eva Gore Booth poem: “Comrades” from Broken Glory. Maunsel, 1918.

Edna O’Brien’s TSL Eliot Lecture (Abbey Theatre) 15th December 2020

To celebrate Edna O’Brien’s 90th Birthday, she will give this year’s TSL Eliot Lecture at the Abbey Theatre.

The fifth in a series of lectures inspired by T. S. Eliot’s impact on modern literature. The 2020 T. S. Eliot lecture, on Eliot and Joyce, is delivered by Edna O’Brien and premiered from the Irish Embassy in London on her 90th birthday, 15th December. Running Order: Introduction by Adrian O’Neill, Irish Ambassador to the United Kingdom Sinéad Cusack performs Eliot’s ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’ Edna O’Brien lecture Post-event interview with Edna O’Brien and Andrew O’Hagan The lecture premieres at 7.30pm on 15th December and will be available to watch until 15th January 2021. Note: This lecture was edited for broadcast. A full transcript of the lecture will be available in a print version in the New Year.

This lecture will be available online for a limited time:

Edna O’Brien received the Irish PEN Award for Outstanding Contribution to Irish Literature in 2001.

Brian Friel RIP

It is with immense sadness that members of Irish PEN learned of the death of Brian Friel, a winner of the Irish PEN Award in 2000, Brian was President of Irish PEN from 2003 onwards. He was an outstanding playwright and shed lustre on the Irish literary scene for many years. He will be greatly missed by his friends and admirers worldwide and not least by members of Irish PEN.

Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin (Chair)


Day of the Imprisoned Writer

Day of Impr Writer LOGO (2)Mark the Day of the Imprisoned Writer @ the Dublin Book Festival; book your ticket at:, and listen to Arena on RTÉ Radio 1 on Wednesday, November 6th to hear more about the writers involved around the world –

Please see below for details of how to nominate your choice of author for Irish PEN’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Irish Literature –

At 6pm on November 15th, as part of the Dublin Book Festival at Smock Alley Theatre, Irish PEN looks forward to marking the Day of the Imprisoned Writer with poet, scriptwriter and broadcaster Theo Dorgan, international news analyst and Newstalk broadcaster Shona Murray, and Afghanistan-based journalist and Human Rights defender Jamila Omar.

Every year, around the world, the Day of the Imprisoned Writer celebrates and supports writers who resist repression of the basic human right to freedom of expression and who stand up to attacks made against their right to impart information and insight.

Theo DorganIn a 60 minute event, Theo, Shona and Jamila will read from the work of writers based around the world who have been punished and targeted because they had the courage to speak their minds; challenging injustice and confronting governments and oppressive regimes far afield and closer to home.

The Day of the Imprisoned Writer is proudly hosted by Irish PEN and Front Line Defenders. Irish PEN are delighted that it will form part of the Dublin Book Festival for the first time this year.

Tickets to this event are free but limited – we look forward to seeing you there.

Calling all PEN members – please submit your nominations for Irish PEN ‘s 2014 Award for Outstanding Achievement in Irish Literature.

Front Line DefendersYou may submit your nominations to this address, and renew your membership sub at Past PEN Award winners include John Banville, Joseph O’Connor, Brendan Kennelly, Roddy Doyle, Neil Jordan, Edna O’Brien, Irish PEN’s President Brian Friel, William Trevor, Jennifer Johnston and Thomas Kilroy. Past Award winners who are no longer with us include Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney and Maeve Binchy. We will update you on details of our Award presentation and dinner, which will take place in early 2014.

Please see for more information about Irish PEN, our members and our annual award.

You can view the flyer here.

Shona Murray

Letter from Bled, Report on Pen’s 45th International Writers Meeting


Report on Pen’s 45th International Writers Meeting

Pen’s 45th International Writers Meeting was held at Bled from 8 to 12 May 2013. Delegates representing 34 centres from across the world attended.  The delegates were welcomed by Dr Uros Grilc, the Slovenian minister for culture.  Subsequently they were entertained by a presentation of the culture and literary traditions of the central region of Slovenia.

The first theme discussed was ‘Literary Creation, from the Periphery to the Centre’. It was recognised that in terms of ideology this was a basic dynamic in society.  Each Periphery gradually draws nearer to the Centre, eventually replacing it and prompting the process to repeat itself. 

The second topic was the writer as a traveller creating peace. This resonated with the delegates. Clearly travel enables people to get beyond viewing other peoples in terms of their stereotypes.  It also provides an opportunity to appreciate the cultural roots and riches of those residing in different parts of the world.  The result is a genuine respect and regard for the otherness in peoples.There was unanimity that extending boundaries in this way is a creator of peace both within and without.

The Pen Declaration on Digital Freedom passed at the International Congress in Gyeongju, Korea, in 2012 was discussed.  Four articles were appended to it to clarify how it would affect the Targeting of individuals, Censorship, Surveillance and Business and Human Rights.

The agenda of the General Assembly of the Writers for Peace Committee of International Pen included: Situation in Asia (China) (a) Tibet and (b) Uyghars; Peace in the Middle East and the Mediterranean (a) Israelo-Palestinian Relations, (b) Turkey (c) Question of Kurds.  Reports indicated the complex issues inherent in the troubles in those areas.  It was surprising how little attention was given to the extraordinary role of Israel and its ally the US in the continuing difficulties in the Middle East.  The interference of outside powers and the Anglo-American propaganda which fomented and maintains the tragic civil war in Syria also received little attention.

The Pen International Women Writers Committee reported that in some parts of the world there had been progress towards women achieving their full human rights but that a long road in that direction had yet to be travelled by the Sisters.

J. Anthony Gaughan

Timothy Conway

Presenting to Sell: Making the Most of the Media – For Newly Published Authors

Presenting to Sell: Making the Most of the Media – for newly published authors

As a continuation of the National Emerging Writer Programme, UNESCO Dublin City of Literature and Irish PEN are hosting a FREE one day event for authors, Saturday June 15th 10.30-4.00pm showing them how to make the most of public and media appearances, both traditional and online

For Authors

Identify angles in order to pitch your message to the media, find out how to look and sound good on TV, how to present your ideas on radio and how to hold an audience at a reading. Find out how to deliver your message to the biggest possible audience using social media.

All authors need a great author photo for press and PR. Professional photographer Paul Sherwood is offering a special rate of €30 for authors to get their photograph taken on the day, during the lunch break (must be pre-booked when you book your place, cash payment on the day).

Authors can also avail of this great rate by visiting his studio in Blackrock, County Dublin by contacting him at at: Mobile: 087 230 9096 e-mail:

Television Appearances

MTVs Emma Ledden, a specialist in corporate communications, will coach participants on how to appear on TV, how to communicate your message effectively, how to sit and what to wear. How do you relax in front of the cameras? How do you make sure your book is mentioned?

Making the Most of Radio

Radio offers wide opportunities for authors, from local to national stations all looking for content. How do you get yourself onto radio? Should you settle for a phone interview or go into studio? What notes should you bring, how much preparation should you do?

Public Readings

Author Declan Hughes has extensive experience in theatre and knows how to deliver a reading. Declan will be covering what to read, how to read it and how to hold an audience at a public reading, demonstrating what works and what doesn’t.

The Power of the Internet

The internet is a free tool that can launch careers. Find out from independent technology consultant, trainer and internet marketer Darina Loakman how best to use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to generate traffic to your blog or website and how best to maximise your website’s potential.

Make the most of every opportunity to develop your author profile!

To book contact or Tel: 01 6744862


Facilitator biographies

Emma Ledden

Emma is a Master Trainer and has one of the most notable Presentation and Media CV’s in this country.  Straight out of school at the age of 17 Emma began working with RTE on The Den. She presented and produced her own slot for two and a half years, eventually presenting the daily 3 hour show.

Following this, Emma was chosen from thousands to be a VJ for MTV UK. This involved being in front of a television camera 5 days a week. Within 6 months Emma landed another very high profile television position. She was chosen to present BBC’s flagship programme Live and Kicking.

After this Emma turned her attention to radio. First she worked on a weekend magazine style show for Spin 1038 and then progressed to producing and presenting the breakfast programme on Dublin’s Q102. Emma still contributes to the media regularly and is a recurring panelist on TV3’s Midday show.

In 2003 Emma became a senior consultant with Carr Communications. She trained individuals and companies at all levels specialising in Presentation and Media Skills. Her ability to help a client overcome all the issues that arise with public communication is incomparable. In 2007 Emma set up Emma Ledden Communications and developed “Presenting to Sell”. Presenting to Sell is about taking the fear and confusion out of presentations. It will motivate, challenge and educate individuals to prepare and deliver inspiring presentations that engage, inspire and get results.

Declan Hughes

Declan Hughes is the author of the Ed Loy PI series: The Wrong Kind of Blood; The Colour of Blood; The Dying Breed (US: The Price of Blood); All The Dead Voices; and City of Lost Girls. His books have been nominated for the Edgar, CWA New Blood Dagger, Shamus and Macavity awards, and The Wrong Kind of Blood won the Shamus for Best First PI Novel. Declan is also an award-winning playwright and screenwriter, and the co-founder of Dublin’s Rough Magic Theatre Company.

Darina Loakman

Darina Is an independent technology consultant, trainer and internet marketer helping small independent business owners plan social media and digital strategies.

She’s a former Key Account Manager with a major travel GDS (Global Distribution Service), working in the non-travel division providing wide area networks and telecommunications to all types of business.  She was Chief Technology Officer of ICS-Skills being responsible for technology, internal networks and online strategies within the organisation. She built her first website in 1996 and has been online ever since!

Darina was the 2006 Female Entrepreneur of the Year at the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Enterprise Awards. Her real enthusiasm is for showing others how to use technology, the internet and social media to make business life easier, in easy-to-understand non-technical language.