History of PEN

‘In Time Of Division Between Countries, International PEN Is One Of The Rare Institutions To Keep A Bridge Constantly Open’ – Mario Vargas Llosa


Originally founded in 1921 to promote literature, today International PEN has 145 Centres in 104 countries across the globe. It recognises that literature is essential to understanding and engaging with other worlds; if you can’t hear the voice of another culture how can you understand it? To read more about the history, visit the official PEN International history page.


Our primary goal is to engage with, and empower, societies and communities across cultures and languages, through reading and writing. We believe that writers can play a crucial role in changing and developing civil society. We do this through the promotion of literature, international campaigning on issues such as translation and freedom of expression and improving access to literature at international, regional and national levels.


Our membership is open to all published writers who subscribe to the PEN Charter regardless of nationality, language, race, colour or religion. International PEN is a non-political organisation and has special consultative status at UNESCO and the United Nations.



  • Mrs C. A. Dawson Scott
  • Writer, Playwright and Novelist, English.


  • John Galsworthy 1921–33
  • Novelist, English, Nobel Prize in Literature (1932). Author of the Forsyte Saga.
  • H. G. Wells 1933–36
  • Novelist, English, As president he oversaw the expulsion of the German Centre during the 1933 Dobrovnik Congress.
  • Jules Romains 1936–41
  • Poet, French, l’Académie Française (1946), founder of the Unanimism literary movement.

Wartime International Presidential Committee:

  • Hu Shih 1941–47
  • Philosopher and Essayist, Chinese, Leader of the Vernacular Chinese
  • movement aimed at reforming written Chinese to make it open to all readers.
  • Denis Saurat 1941–47
  • Essayist, French, Advocate of French – English cultural links.
  • H. G. Wells 1941–46
  • Hermon Ould 1941–47
  • Playwright and Poet, Also longtime International Secretary of PEN.
  • Thornton Wilder 1941–47
  • Playwright and Novelist, American, Pulitzer Prizes (1927, 1938, 1943).
  • E. M. Forster 1946–47
  • Novelist, English.
  • François Mauriac 1946–47
  • Novelist and Essayist, French, Nobel Prize in Literature (1952), l’Académie Française (1933).
  • Ignazio Silone (Secondino Tranquilli) 1946–47
  • Essayist, Italian.
  • Maurice Maeterlinck 1947–49
  • Symbolist, Playwright, Poet and Novelist, Belgian, Nobel Prize in Literature (1911).
  • Author of “The Blue Bird” (1908) and Pelléas et Mélisande.
  • Benedetto Croce 1949–52
  • Philosopher, Italian, “The Philosophy of Spirit”, Italian. Civilization is the “continual vigilance” against barbarism.
  • Charles Morgan 1953–56
  • Playwright and Novelist, English (Welsh). Best known for “The Fountain” (1932).
  • André Chamson 1956–59
  • Novelist and Essayist, French, l’Académie Française (1956).
  • Alberto Moravia 1959–62
  • Novelist, Italian. Known for such novels as: “Gli Indifferenti” and “Il Conformista”.
  • Victor van Vriesland 1962–65
  • Writer, Dutch.
  • Arthur Miller 1965–69
  • Playwright and Essayist. Pulitzer Prize (1949). Principe de Asturias Prize for Literature. Known for such plays as: “Death of a Salesman” and “The Crucible”.
  • Pierre Emmanuel 1969–71
  • Poet, French, l’Académie Française (1968). Active in the Resistance during WWII.
  • Heinrich Böll 1971–74
  • Novelist, German, Nobel prize for Literature (1972), Georg Büchner Prize (1967). As PEN President he welcomed Alexandr Solzhenitsyn into exile and gave him first refuge in his Eifel cottage.
  • V. S. Pritchett 1974–76
  • Short story writer and Essayist, English, The Heinemann Award (1969), PEN Award (1974).
  • Mario Vargas Llosa 1976–79
  • Novelist, Peruvian, Nobel Prize for Literature (2010).
  • Per Wästberg 1979–85
  • Novelist, Poet and Essayist, Swedish, Member of the Swedish Academy (1997).
  • Francis King 1986–89
  • Novelist, English, The Somerset Maugham Award (1951), The Katherine Mansfield Short Story Prize.
  • René Tavernier May – Nov 1989
  • Editor of la Revue “Confluences”, French.
  • Per Wästberg (Interim) Nov 89 – May 90
  • György Konrád 1990–93
  • Novelist and Essayist, Hungarian, leading dissident during the Soviet era.
  • Ronald Harwood 1993–97
  • Playwright, South African/English, Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (2003), The Humanitas Prize (2008). Author of “The Dresser” and “The Pianist”.
  • Homero Aridjis 1997–2003
  • Poet and Novelist, Mexican. Environmental activist, founder of El Grupo de los Cien.
  • Jiri Grusa 2004-2009
  • Poet and Novelist, Czech, leading dissident during the Soviet era.
  • John Ralston Saul 2009-Present
  • Novelist and Essayist, Canadian.