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The Democracy of the Imagination


Presented by Jennifer Clement, PEN International President; Per Wästberg, PEN International President Emeritus and Chair of the Nobel Prize for Literature; Eric Lax, Nayantara Sahgal and Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Vice Presidents of PEN International; and Paul Muldoon, Board Member of PEN America, the Democracy of Imagination Manifesto was adopted at the passed 85th PEN International Congress in Manila, 2019.

The opening of the PEN International Charter states that literature knows no frontiers. This speaks to both real and, no less importantly, those imagined.

PEN stands against notions of national and cultural purity that seek to stop people from listening, reading and learning from each other. One of the most treacherous forms of censorship is self-censorship —where walls are built around the imagination and often raised from fear of attack.

PEN believes the imagination allows writers and readers to transcend their own place in the world to include the ideas of others. This place for some writers has been prison where the imagination has meant interior freedom and, often, survival.

The imagination is the territory of all discovery – as ideas come into being as one creates them. It is often in the confluence of contradiction, found in metaphor and simile, where the most profound human experiences reside.

For almost 100 years PEN has stood for freedom of expression. PEN also stands for, and believes in, the freedom of the empathetic imagination while recognizing that many have not been the ones to tell their own stories.


PEN International upholds the following principles:

• We defend the imagination and believe it to be as free as dreams.

• We recognize and seek to counter the limits faced by so many in telling their own stories.

 • We believe the imagination accesses all human experience, and reject restrictions of time, place, or origin.

• We know attempts to control the imagination may lead to xenophobia, hatred and division.

• Literature crosses all real and imagined frontiers and is always in the realm of the universal.

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