New year

Posted: October 7, 2015 in Uncategorized

Busy setting up

We’ll be at Freshers’ Fair, in South Schools, table 44-45. Come say hi!

On Thursday 6th November, Oxford Student PEN hosted a debate on education and curriculum reform. We were joined by three speakers: Eric Royal Lybeck, a Ph. D student in sociological history of education at the University of Cambridge; Jonathan Bate, Provost of Worcester College and Professorial of English Literature; and Ian Thompson, Associate Professor of English Education at the University of Oxford. The debate was chaired by Asha Rogers, D. Phil student in English Literature at Oxford.
After three superb talks by our speakers in which they described their own experiences of the English Literature GCSE and their reactions to the curriculum reforms, we moved onto questions from the floor. Eric gave a detailed overview of the controversy surrounding the reforms to the literature curriculum, suggesting some possible reasons for these reforms, and their potential effect. Jonathan, who was on the panel advising Michael Gove when these reforms were initially suggested, outlined the reasons these decisions had been made, and pointed towards the discrepancy between how the curriculum did change and how these changes were represented by the media. Ian, who spent sixteen years as a secondary school teacher, drew on his first-hand experience of the classroom to explain how these reforms will affect English teachers on the ground. In the debate that followed we a number of points were discussed, including: the role of literature in cultural exchange – should the literature that we teach reflect a multicultural Britain, or should we teach more traditional texts as an introduction to ‘British’ culture?; how far exam boards are responsible for the narrow range of texts that are taught in schools; and the extent to which teachers should have autonomy in choosing the texts they teach.
Thanks to all those who came along and made the event so lively and thought-provoking!

Oxford PEN has put together two sample letters with information we’ve been looking at over the last two weeks in relation to this term’s Palestine campaign, which you can download from this post. The first protests Israel’s lack of concern for the safety of journalists, and their use of “administrative detention” to indefinitely detain Palestinian academics without charge, while the second calls on the Palestinian Authority to improve their practices regarding freedom of the press and the arrests of journalists. Please have a look just to find out more about what we’ve been doing, and if either strikes a chord, email us at and we’ll attach your name to emails we’ll be sending to both governments.

PEN Campaigns: Week 1

Posted: October 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

Oxford PEN’s weekly campaigning started last week with a look at Israel’s treatment of Palestinian intellectuals and journalists. Have a look at our sample letter for more information about exactly what we were campaigning about.

Our Glorious Leader Nico hand-delivering our letters to the Israeli Embassy in London

Our Glorious Leader Nico hand-delivering our letters to the Israeli Embassy in London

On Wednesday we welcomed the award-winning Basque author Kirmen Uribe to Oxford in conjunction with the Oxford Centre in Comparative Criticism and Translation. He is a man of multiple talents, and over the course of the evening we learnt about his work in different media including poetry, film and animation.

He became particularly eloquent when talking about how important it is that he writes in Basque. Under Franco, literary culture in this ‘minor’ language came under threat because of restrictive government policies. In recent years it has enjoyed something of a renaissance, in part because of wider international interest in Basque literature.

‘In Basque the word for ‘Basque’ just means ‘one who speaks the language,’ Uribe told us. ‘There are some people who want to keep the language only within the region but I do not agree with this. If somebody in America or Japan can speak Basque then that is great. I think that person is Basque!’

The belief that all languages and literatures are the common property of the whole of humanity chimes with what we at PEN hold dear. And Uribe was convinced that open-mindedness on this subject is a way in which possessors of ‘minor’ languages through the world may be able to protect their heritages.


Then on Friday Lebanese author Dominique Edde joined us to speak with Dr Jane Hiddleston about her newly-translated novel, Kamal Jann.

It traces the fortunes of a Syrian family before the recent awful conflicts. Although it is on the face of it a work of fiction, Edde was insistent that it speaks truths about the reality of life for Syrian people.

‘There are so many lies. You are here in Oxford, which is an important place in the West. You must know how things really are. This is a complicated world where many things are linked together and it is hard to get to the truth. But I have listened to these Syrian people for my whole life and I understand. You must know how things really are. There are so many lies.’

She also revealed to us some details of her collaboration with Roz Schwartz, her English translator for Seagull Books. We got a sense for the extraordinary care that went into the translation procession. Schwartz’s eye for precision of rendering was brought into fruitful tension with Edde’s ear for the rhythm of each sentence. There was, for example, an overnight stand-off over whether to use ‘in the meantime’ or ‘meanwhile’ in the last sentence.

‘Next morning, like always, I realised Roz was right,’ Edde told us.

Michaelmas Termcard 2014

Posted: October 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

Please download our termcard by clicking on the link below:


Lots of great events coming up, with some fantastic readings and launches, as well as a chance to learn to encode your emails to keep prying governmental eyes away. Come and see us at The Kings Arms on Sunday at 5pm to talk to us more about any of these events.

Announcing: Crypto-party

Posted: October 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

Last term Oxford Student PEN hosted a discussion on Privacy and Surveillance. We addressed such questions as whether we have a right to privacy, to what extent the state should be allowed to interfere with that right, and how the internet has recast the terms of the debate.

The event was organised in response to revelations about the NSA’s and GCHQ’s mass surveillance programs, and much of our focus was on how to monitor and regulate their powers. But as well as such top-down considerations we were also told that we as individuals can do much more to protect ourselves.

I think it was Kenneth Page of Privacy International who said the following: “We take a lot of care to safeguard our e-mail accounts with passwords but once we’ve clicked ‘send’ we don’t tend to think about security any more. In fact, as our e-mails travel through cyberspace they can in theory be read by anybody who knows how. Reading e-mails as they travel between our secure accounts is as easy as standing by the side of the motorway and reading the number plates of the cars that go past.”

That came as a surprise.

So we did some thinking and the result is that this term we will be holding a crypto-party. The premise is simple: Come along with a laptop and learn to encode your e-mails over a drink.

Watch this space.

Poets for PEN

Posted: March 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

On Saturday 8 March we welcomed three poets to read for us in the latest of our Poets for PEN nights. The award-winning Jamie McKendrick last joined us in June 2012 at the official launch of OxforJamieMcK2d Student PEN (pictured left) and it was a pleasure to hear him read from his work as poet and translator again. We were very happy also to hear readings from Jane Griffiths, poet and Fellow in English at Wadham College, and Caroline Ashley, who is active on the Oxford poetry scene.

All poets read beautifully and there were many correspondences between their work which none of us had planned for. They were also kind enough to participate in conversation afterwards with a characteristically curious PEN audience, who had questions about poetry’s power and function to represent and express the world in relation to other forms and disciplines, from the visual arts to physics to philosophy.


Spotlight on Sochi

Posted: February 16, 2014 in 2013-14, Campaigns, Letter writing, News

PEN’s international campaign to highlight Russia’s deplorable policies on freedom of expression during the Sochi Winter Olympics has hit the headlines over the past week, and you can read a selection of the coverage below. Closer to home, Oxford Student PEN committee member Nico Hobhouse raised the debate with a brilliant comment piece in the Oxford Student, which you can read here.

PEN’s campaign was also discussed in the Guardian, which featured an open letter organised by PEN International and signed by more than 200 writers – a galaxy of literary stars, including Salman Rushdie, Orhan Pamuk, Carol Ann Duffy, Wole Soyinka, Paul Auster, and Margaret Atwood – against Putin’s ‘chokehold’ on freedom of expression. The leading Russian writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya wrote, again in the Guardian, about the problems faced by the media in Russia as they seek to question the way the state is working, likening contemporary Russia to something Orwell might have imagined.

PEN’s letter also earned notice from the BBC, the Telegraph and the Moscow Times, among others.


Mandela 1

On Friday 7 February we were delighted to welcome two senior Oxford professors to discuss the achievements and enduring significance of Nelson Mandela. Elleke Boehmer, Professor of World Literature, and William Beinart, Rhodes Professor of Race Relations, brought distinct perspectives to a conversation which touched on the iconicity of Mandela – brilliantly exemplified for us by Professor Boehmer’s props, which included Mandela coasters and a Mandela apron – coverage of his death and funeral, and the likely prospects for South African politics in the future.