Student societies: King’s College London PEN Group

Student experience

Another SkySusie Christensen

King’s College London

The English department at King’s College London is home to the first ever English PEN student group. The establishment and running of this group has been vastly aided by a generous grant from the English Subject Centre.

The group meet fortnightly in order to write letters. So far we have been focusing our campaigning on writers imprisoned in Sri Lanka, in particular J. S. Tissainayagam and Pregeeth Ekanaliyagoda. Students from KCL have been writing to the president of Sri Lanka, the Japanese and Indian governments, the Sri Lankan embassies in the UK and America and the UN concerning the appalling state of freedom of speech in Sri Lanka. Journalists who speak out about their country’s regime continue to be imprisoned and persecuted, and King’s PEN seek to try to put a stop to this and to promote awareness about this often under covered state of affairs.

To this end, King’s PEN also co-hosted an event with the Sri Lanka Peace and Justice campaign to promote awareness about the situation in Sri Lanka. This event featured a reading from the distinguished novelist Roma Tearne.

King’s PEN have also hosted other events such as a discussion on adapting Shakespeare for opera with Alexander Goehr and Hermione Lee, and a discussion of the effects of our ancestors on autobiography featuring Lisa Appignanesi and Eva Hoffman.

The group also staged a sell out performance last year of Another Sky: Voices of Conscience from Around the World. This is a script compiled from an anthology with the same title published by PEN which features works from imprisoned and persecuted writers from around the world. The script was first performed at the National Theatre in 2007 as a series of readings, and King’s PEN revived it, giving it a more dramatic staging. Due to the success of the initial performance, we have been invited to take the play to the Richmond-upon-Thames literary festival on 15th November 2010, details of which can be found on the English PEN website.

Recently ‘PEN Reps’ have been recruited from each year at undergraduate level, along with a Master’s student. These reps are testament to the extent to which people are now involved with PEN across all levels of the King’s English department and further afield. The reps will be running their own letter writing workshops on Iran and other countries, as well as continuing with the Sri Lanka campaigning and putting on other King’s PEN events.

This group is an exciting and important movement as it is important for students of literature to remember the political effects writing can have and to remind ourselves that not everyone is able to exercise the luxury of freedom of speech which we in a London English department often take for granted.

We hope that as a result of King’s PEN other London universities will become involved in the organisation.