The 80th Congress of PEN International, which has just ended in Bishkek, Kyrgystan, has approved the PEN Liberia Center as its 149th member.
Other centers approved are the Eritrean, Welsh and Honduras PEN centers, a press release issued in Monrovia said.
This year’s congress, held under the theme “My language, my destiny, my freedom,” focused on issues of linguistic rights and linguistic diversity in a multiethnic environment. Delegates from PEN centers in more than 100 countries discussed the problem of translation of small nations’ literatures and themes of freedom of expression and the rights of writers around the world.
Delegates from Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone were not represented at the congress because delegates were refused visa by the host country, Kyrgystan, due to fears of Ebola transmission.
Messages of solidarity were received from the PEN president, John Ralston Saul, vice president Joanne Leedom Ackerman and director of international programs, Romana Cacchioli.
“Just to add my own congratulations on joining the PEN family, we are so proud to have a PEN Liberia. Also we know how difficult it must be in Liberia at the moment with this dreadful Ebola crisis,” Ms. Cacchioli wrote.
Responding to news of the Liberia center’s approval, PEN Liberia acting president and co-founder, Dr. Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, said: “Our official acceptance into the Pen International world body at such a time as this is a testament to our dedication in our vision to give voice to Liberian writers, to protect freedom of expression and to support young, aspiring as well as established writers to achieve their dreams as writers.”
She added, “Writers are the conscience of society, and we must be that conscience. Pen Liberia Center will be that home, a place where Liberian writers and writing is nurtured even now as we overcome this sad time in our history and into the future for better times to come.”
Pen Liberia’s acting executive director Michael Butscher expressed delight: “We are proud to be the 149th center of PEN International. It is a breakthrough for us and for the country in terms of promoting Liberian literature, education and free expression. Personally, I am proud of our achievement so far, although I know there are challenges ahead.”
Through the annual PEN congress, writers are able to enter into the world community of writers where they interact with Western publishers that could publish their books abroad and increase their earnings as well as expand market opportunities for their publications.
PEN International works with writers desirous of setting up new Centers, works with them in their first year to ensure that things get off the ground, offers support on projects, searches for funding, and makes sure new centers are connected with established PEN Centers, the release said.