PEN Journeys: Memoir of Literature on the Line
Published by: Shearsman Books
Release Date: February 1, 2022
The year 2021 marked the centenary of PEN International and English PEN, and 2022 marks the centenary of PEN America, PEN France and many other PEN Centers around the world.
For a century, PEN (Poets, Essayists, Novelists) has brought together writers to celebrate and share literature and to defend those who write. PEN has laid the foundation for a global community of writers who seek out facts, celebrate the creative imagination and champion freedom of expression.
For over 35 of those years, journalist and novelist Joanne Leedom-Ackerman has been engaged with PEN as a member, as the President of one of the large centers (PEN USA West) during the year of Tiananmen Square and the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, as Chair of PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee (1993-1997), as International Secretary (2004-2007), and continuing as an International Vice President since 1996. She has also served on the Boards and as Vice President of PEN American Center (2008-2015) and the PEN Faulkner Foundation (1996-2021).
PEN Journeys: Memoir of Literature on the Line reflects a time when the world was opening up-the Berlin Wall fell; the Soviet Union broke apart; democracies were ascendant around the globe-and PEN was often at the forefront. In many countries writers like Václav Havel led the way as they were being released from prison. PEN Journeys spans three decades and tracks PEN's centrality to many of the events, to the individual writers, and to Joanne's own story as she moved to Europe with nine and eleven-year-old sons who also intersected with this time and with events to come. The period was also a time when this sprawling organization, now with 157 centers in over 100 countries, was finding it needed to reorganize and so had its own revolution.
PEN Journeys is filled with anecdotes of the writers, including those well-known like Salman Rushdie, Orhan Pamuk, Günter Grass, Ken Saro Wiwa, Anna Politkovskaya and others and those less known but courageous writers. Writers set the guardrails for free societies. Their freedom and freedom of expression are vital for a democratic citizenry. PEN, the only literary organization with consultative status at the United Nations, holds watch.
Proceeds from PEN Journeys will go to PEN International's work, particularly its work for writers in prison and at risk.
“PEN Journeys: Memoir of Literature on the Line covers a crucial time in the history of freedom of expression. The book chronicles Joanne Leedom-Ackerman's stewardship of PEN and is filled with daring adventures, philosophical debates and meetings with some of the bravest writers and journalists who have risked so much to tell the truth.”
—Jennifer Clement, President PEN International 2015-2021 and author of Prayers for the Stolen and Gun Love
“I kept reading Joanne Leedom-Ackerman’s PEN Journeys and said, These need to become a book. They tell the story of the important organization PEN from the ground and through the insightful eyes of someone who has worked and led the organization with passion, commitment and friendship with writers around the world. PEN Journeys addresses many important philosophical and political issues of the day with narrative flair so that I wanted to keep reading and then had to wait for the next installment.”
—Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and The Republic of Imagination
“Joanne Leedom-Ackerman is the history of PEN incarnate. As president of a center, Chair of the Writers- in-Prison Committee, International Secretary, and a PEN International Vice President, she has been a steady and guiding force in the organization and its dedication to freedom of expression for more than one-third of PEN’s first century. Her dedication to literature and human rights personify PEN International. These accounts do what all good writing does: She makes people and events vibrant.”
—Eric Lax, Vice President of PEN International and author of Faith, Interrupted: A Spiritual Journey
“Few if any have played a more important part in PEN’s modern history than Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, and none could have described it better and more vividly.”
—Eugene Schoulgin, Vice President PEN International, Norwegian & Swedish PEN, Novelist, “Memories of Mirella”
“Joanne Leedom-Ackerman has always been on the line for PEN International and the cause of writer safety and freedom of expression. A remarkable devotion, which all of us in the movement are so grateful for. Her knowledge and sense of PEN is unparalleled.”
—John Ralston Saul, President PEN International 2009-2015
“This definitive chronicle of three crucial decades of PEN is a fascinating story told in lucid prose about the world's foremost organization defending freedom of expression. Working tirelessly at all levels of PEN, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman has traveled the globe fighting for professionals of the world. Her unparalleled breadth of experience makes her the most qualified person to write this narrative, which is more important than ever as freedom of speech is increasingly under attack.”
—Homero Aridjis, President PEN International 1997-2003, and author of 1492 The Life and Times of Juan Cabezon of Castile, Eyes to See Otherwise and Smyrna in Flames