PEN International has launched a campaign to support writers who have experienced forced displacement or are living in exile called "Make Space", supported by literary figures such as Stephen Fry, Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie.
The project will include a three-year programme of publications, events, advocacy and projects and the mission statement has been signed by more than 200 writers including Nobel laureates and authors such as Stephen Fry, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Yann Martel and Isabel Allende.
The statement’s opening paragraph reads: “Some of us have been displaced; some of us are refugees and asylum seekers; some of us have lived in exile, or have been forced to go into hiding in our own countries. But we are all writers and use words in ways that can shift and inform the society around us. And – whoever we are, wherever we are - when we consciously make space for the stories of displaced communities within our own, we make space for a shared cultural understanding that enriches us and connects us, disrupting the systems of division that alienate and dehumanise. It is time to act, and to act together.”
Allende, originally a refugee, discussed a need to reveal the humanity of the crisis. She said: “It’s very easy to create a sense of hatred when you talk numbers, but when you see the faces of people, when you look at them in the eye one by one, then the whole thing changes, and that’s what art and literature can do.”
PEN International’s president Jennifer Clement spoke of how literature is a reminder of “shared humanity”. She said: “In literature, we read each other’s stories and - in them - we meet. We see each other, we love each other, we hurt, heal, and laugh with each other. These things take place in fiction but they are real, because they remind us of our shared humanity, the things we have in common.”
She added: “And this campaign is about that – places to meet, ways to welcome and host, and the moments in which we create spaces to hold and to witness, where that is so very, very necessary.”
Writer Ngugi Wa Thiongo will read the mission statement at a reception in Lillehammer, Norway, when the Make Space campaign will launch later today (31st May). The event will form part of ‘In Other Words’, a conference organized jointly by PEN and the Independent International Organisation of Cities and Regions.