SUE JACKSON Therapist | Writer | Photographer | Activist

An avid blogger for the last fifteen years, I believe in the power of the word to change the world. I have participated in, and reported on, a range of protests during this period, including the successful East-West Link campaign and, more recently, our wonderful, home-grown Extinction Rebellion (XR). If you believe, like I do, that it is time for ordinary people to rise up in defence of the planet, I encourage you to explore this blog, share it with your networks, and – of course – take action.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

PEN Melbourne International Women's Day card writing event

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On Monday evening forty women (and one man) met to compose messages of encouragement and solidarity for women writers around the world who are imprisoned or under house arrest for their views. The event was organised by PEN Melbourne. It was in honour of International Women's Day. And, fittingly, the venue was Carlton's stunning Kathleen Syme Library and Community Centre, named after the ground-breaking journalist and women's editor of the Age:

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PEN Melbourne regularly hosts evenings such as this. I must admit, sometimes it can feel like you are tossing a note in a bottle into the sea. But other times we receive heartening responses, when it is apparent that our cards have made a real impact on some prisoner's life.

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Monday was unusual for me because it was the first time I had attended a writing event specifically focused on women prisoners.  The stories we heard of peoples' lives, their courage and resilience in the face of adversity and injustice were extraordinary. And having their poetry and articles read to us  was very moving. Judith Morrison, Committee member, was one of the readers:

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It was great to be able to reach out to the prisoners, to send them cards generously donated by the beloved cartoonist, Judy Horacek, or by PEN Melbourne President Chris McKenzie.

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Of course it is not only overseas that people are being silenced. There are increasing threats to democracy here at home.

For example the Federal Government's proposed changes to the official secrecy laws mean that whistleblowers and journalists who report on leaked information could face 20 years in prison. 

And as the renowned poet Judith Rodriguez (below), who has had personal experience of the key role of translators in disseminating writers' work suggested, it is why it is so important for PEN to support translators. And to create projects in which PEN members work with Indigenous writers to promote their work.

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PEN is a great organization, with a wonderful tradition and laudable aims of promoting literature and defending freedom of expression world-wide. It was founded nearly 100 years ago by a group of literary heavyweights including Joseph Conrad and George Bernard Shaw. And therein has sometimes lain its problem. Because it can feel as if PEN is not for everyone. It is a closed shop, and only eminent, published or 'real' writers need apply. But that is not the case.

We are all readers. Also, as we know, print has become only one of many platforms for writing.  And sadly, the explosion of social media has provided a field day for repressive governments, so that these days many of the writers championed by PEN are bloggers or tweeters or citizen journalists. Even if you are not currently writing a novel, if you use instagram, or tweet, use Facebook or blog you are likely to have a real affinity with them.

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So, if you are despondent about the world, consider joining Pen Melbourne ( There is nothing quite like taking action to ward off depression. And I can guarantee: at Pen events the food, the wine and the sense of community are always great.


Blogger Luke C Jackson said...

Great article. Very inspiring.

5:12 PM  
Blogger Sue Jackson said...

Thank you for the feedback Luke! And for demonstrating to those who tried to leave a comment and failed that it can be done. I'm just sorry that the system isn't more user-friendly.
But please persist people - I would love to hear what your thoughts!

12:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, great cause.

12:22 PM  
Blogger Jane Perry said...

Really enjoyed this article, thanks Sue. Are card writing events only for PEN members?

12:56 AM  
Blogger Sue Jackson said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the article, Jane. No, the card writing events are definitely not exclusively for PEN members. All welcome!

2:50 PM  

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