The last week or so I've been working hard on a couple of articles for the next Melbourne Pen Quarterly. In case you don't know much about it, Pen is a global community of writers, with centres in more than 100 countries. It's also an advocacy group for writers, especially those who are imperilled, and a feisty fighter for freedom of expression everywhere.
I joined about 5 years ago and often write for them. At the last Melbourne Writers Festival in August I was the 'intrepid girl reporter' at the two events auspiced by Pen and facilitated by President Arnold Zable. And as Jimmy Olsen was unavailable, I was solely responsible for taking the pictures as well making notes for later deciphering.
But I have no real complaints about my assignment as both sessions were great.
One featured John Ralston Saul, the free-thinking, free-wheeling President of Pen International at his radical and inspiring best.
|John Ralston Saul|
The other was a virtual feast where four very different African writers, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Uzodinma Iweala, Sefi Atta and Majok Tulba, managed to obliterate heaps of preconceptions and stereotypes I didn't even realise I had, about Africa and Africans.
|Panellists with Arnold Zable surrounding 'Empty Chair'|
To read my articles about these events simply log on to the Melbourne Pen web-site
where you can download the Pen Quarterly. You will have to give it a few weeks though because the upcoming issue is only just in production. (But, in the meantime, you might be interested to check out my photo-journalism piece Cuba: 'Creating Language that Works'
in the current issue.)
You will no doubt notice the empty chair
in the photo above.
The whole idea of the empty chair - which appears at all Pen sessions and represents an imprisoned writer somewhere in the world - was one of the two things that first attracted me to Pen. The other was a signature event.
Every year, around Christmas time, Pen members get together to write postcards of support and encouragement to other incarcerated writers. The recipients might be languishing in a regional gaol in China or Turkey, but this reminder that they are not forgotten, that someone, somewhere, is thinking of them can have an amazing impact.
Fortunately I had heard of both these activities long before I actually knew much else about Pen. And in my ignorance I joined up. Had a I known that in 1921 when it was founded, John Galsworthy was President and members included Joseph Conrad, George Bernard Shaw and H.G.Wells, I'm sure I would have bolted.
But I have since learned that even though there are still celebrity members, any of us who write, whether we be a journalist, a poet, a blogger, a diarist, a struggling novelist, published or unpublished, can find our place.
And it always feels great, when we sit scribbling together in a comfortable pub festooned with Christmas decorations with yummy food and a glass of wine at our elbow, to reach out to people just like ourselves, who have none of these things.