Archive for October, 2012

This Thursday, Oxford Student PEN are hosting an evening in celebration and exploration of the relationship between text and image.

We will be screening an adaptation of a novel about the loss of language; and an installation that examines the relationship between language and photographs. A short film by Kevin Jackson of PEN’s recommended title ‘The Last of the Vostyachs’, by Diego Marani’s about the last surviving speaker of an ancient European language, will open the evening. This will be followed by a screening of ‘Endless Renovation’, previously exhibited at the Tate Britain, by award-winning artist Corin Sworn. We are delighted to announce that Kevin Jackson and Corin Sworn will be present for a Q&A session. The evening will conclude with a drinks reception, courtesy of Dedalus publishers.

Corin Sworn is the newly appointed Visual Arts Fellow at St. Anne’s College and the Ruskin School of Art. Her work poignantly and often mysteriously uses different media, such as film, photography, and projection, to craft stories, but often these are accompanied by a strange sense of loss. Here is a recent review of one version of the piece she will be discussing on Thursday, followed by a video of Corin discussion her own work.  Come along on Thursday if you want to see more.

1 November, 5.15pm to 7pm, Mary Ogilvie Lecture Theatre, St Anne’s.


By Edith Johnson

The PEN/Pinter Prize-giving ceremony was held last Monday at the British Library, and I was lucky enough to attend (thanks to Lady Antonia Fraser, Harold Pinter’s widow and herself a former President of English PEN). The judges, who included David Hare and Melvyn Bragg, had awarded the prize to Carol Ann Duffy, and she in turn nominated the Syrian novelist and journalist Samar Yazbek as 2012’s international writer of courage.

The most exciting point in the evening was Samar Yazbek’s speech. She chose to convey her message in her own language, Arabic, before an interpreter read a translation (her emotions needed no interpreter, however; it was a passionate and emotional speech). She discussed her gratitude to PEN and to writers like Duffy and Pinter, her sense of solidarity with fellow writers in Syria, and her continued defiance against the Assad regime. She said that the prize honoured all women writers in Syria who have opposed the regime either privately or publicly.

Carol Ann Duffy also gave a great reading of some of her recent poems. Most of the poems were written since her appointment as Poet Laureate – probably for this reason they were nostalgic and patriotic (but still resolutely Left-wing) in a way that I hadn’t expected from Duffy. She was accompanied on various instruments by a portly minstrel-type character, which added to this effect. Particularly moving was a poem telling the story of the Christmas Truce on the Western Front in 1914, in which ordinary soldiers made peace without any prior communication or orders from above. Duffy stressed that the truth about what happened that day had been suppressed by army officials and the government. She didn’t get much more radical than this – her primary targets in other poems included Michael Gove (for the recent GCSE controversy) and the Post Office (for trying to phase out the use of counties in addresses)!

Edith Johnson is Undergraduate Officer on the Oxford Student PEN committee.

The Free Speech Debate have launched an online debate in the wake of the controversy over the Innocence of Muslims film. They’re asking what the role of internet platforms like YouTbe should be in setting the free speech agenda, and you can join the debate here:

Our first event of the year is an interdisciplinary discussion ith leading Oxford thinker and political historian Timothy Garton Ash, who will explore the definitions of freedom of speech.

An evening of debate with TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, co-hosted by Oxford Student PEN and the St Anne’s College Graduate Discussion Groups
Tuesday 9 October 2012, 5.15pm to 6.15pm

Tsuzuki Lecture Theatre, St Anne’s College, Oxford


How do we define freedom of expression? Should there be limits placed on that freedom? And does it matter?

Headlines this summer have served to remind us that the question of freedom of expression is never far from the news or the international political agenda. Violent clashes over representations of the Prophet Mohamed in an American film and a French magazine, as well as those pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge, are only the latest and most high-profile ignitions of a debate that is constantly evolving. The perennial issues confronted by writers, editors, and publishers are increasingly faced by academics and researchers. With legal challenges mounted against scientists and the findings of their research fears are growing that the UK’s libel laws, now more than 100 years old, are stifling scientific discussion.

As a new Defamation Bill works its way through Parliament, Oxford Student PEN and the St Anne’s College Graduate Discussion Groups propose an interdisciplinary evening of free thinking on free speech. Leading Oxford thinker Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies at St Antony’s College, will introduce his international Free Speech Debate programme, and give a provocation of what free expression might mean for the twenty-first century, before engaging in discussion with the audience.

As many of you have followed over the summer with the sentencing of three members from Russian punk band/performance art group Pussy Riot (pictured), freedom of expression in Russia remains seriously threatened. While Pussy Riot’s case has attracted international attention and vocal protest from Hollywood glitterati, the case represents only the tip of the iceberg. Here are just a few sobering facts on the conditions faced by many writers, journalists and artists in Russia:

  • Three members of Pussy Riot are currently serving a two-year prison sentence for performing songs critical of the Putin regime in public, including in a Moscow cathedral. They had been detained in harsh conditions since March, months prior to the July trial. Their situation remains doubtful despite international outrage and calls for their immediate release.
  • In May, after President Vladimir Putin regained power in elections feared less than fair, over 50 journalists were detained. Others have been threatened with violence, suffered assaults, or have gone missing.
  • In October 2006, journalist and author Anna Politkovskaya was shot to death at her home after investigating possible human rights abuses by Russian military forces during the war in Chechnya.

We at Oxford Student PEN will be focusing some of our efforts in the coming year on helping to raise awareness around these heinous assaults on freedom of expression in Russia, as well as work to promote the writing in translation of Russian-language fiction and nonfiction writers. Here’s how you can get involved:

Visit PEN International’s website to join letter-writing campaigns, petitions, and other actions to help improve conditions for persecuted writers and journalists in Russia, and free Pussy Riot: (see this page).

Like “Oxford Student PEN” on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to stay informed about/get involved in upcoming campaigns! We look forward to your input and to seeing you at future events.