The Perth chapter of PEN International

PEN defends responsible freedom of expression, supports writers in prison, protects a free press, celebrates literature’s role across the globe, and promotes the linguistic rights of minorities.

About PEN

Located on Whadjuk land in Perth, Western Australia, PEN Perth is one chapter of PEN International. PEN International is a non-profit organisation that works at the intersection of writing and politics. In particular, we campaign for the release of wrongfully imprisoned writers and advocate for the responsible freedom of expression. PEN International was started in London in 1921 and now has one hundred and fifty centres around the world including three in Australia and many more in our region.

PEN Perth is active on local and international issues. This includes questions of Indigenous incarceration, refugee detention, and a free press. We are a broad-minded group with active members from across the political spectrum who work together for a better society. Our activities include letter writing campaigns; talks, conversations and lectures; fundraising events including dinners, bake sales and movie screenings; and attendance of meetings here and overseas. PEN Perth aims to raise the consciousness of the public and encourage a world where writers are free to express themselves, responsibly and respectfully.

Want to find out more about PEN Perth? Listen to our 'introduction' below.

Our Patron

PEN Perth is happy to announce our first Patron and Honarary Member:

Peter Greste

Sydney-born PETER GRESTE is an internationally recognised journalist concerned with questions of politics, media freedom and war. He has worked for Reuters, CNN and the BBC in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. For his work on media freedom and human rights, he has won awards from the Walkley Foundation, the RSL’s ANZAC Peace Prize, and the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Human Rights Medal. He is the author of The First Casualty published by Penguin. PEN International helped work for Peter’s release from an Egyptian prison where he was incarcerated in 2013 for reporting that was ‘damaging to national security’. In 2018, he commenced his position as UNESCO Chair in Journalism and Communications at the University of Queensland.

PEN Perth Committee

The following people are the current members of the PEN Perth administering Committee.

Robert Wood (Chair)

Robert Wood is interested in media freedom, regional politics, and incarceration. He is the author of History & The Poet, has been an Endeavour Research Fellow at Columbia University, and was a Faculty Member of The School of Life. He has edited for Overland, Peril and Cordite, was a Copyright Agency Emerging Critic with the Sydney Review of Books, and has worked for The Small Press Network, Australian Poetry and The Centre for Stories. Visit Robert's website...

Karen Escobar (Events Coordinator)

Karen Escobar migrated to Australia when she was nine, and has live in Indonesia and Chile since, becoming an Australian citizen in 2012. Having finished high school in 2015 and currently doing a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Arts (Major Journalism) in the University of Notre Dame Fremantle, she aspires to practice law upon graduation, with a public service focus. As part of her journalism degree she has profiled politicians during the 2016 races, written stories on up-and-coming artists in the Fremantle area and become involved with the Centre for Stories in Northbridge.

Kelly Fliedner (Communications)

Kelly Fliedner is a writer, curator and designer who makes podcasts, and writes fiction, art history and art criticism. Her current research is, in a broad sense, interested in the discourses of postcolonialism and decolonisation as they manifest in, and are related to, contemporary art of India. Visit Kelly's website...

Dennis Haskell (Secretary)

Emeritus Professor Dennis Haskell is a poet and literary essayist; he is the author or editor of 24 books, and a member of the Order of Australia for services to literature, education and intercultural understanding. Dennis was President of Perth PEN in its previous incarnation; his other past committee roles include Chair of the Literature Board of the Australia Council and Chair of writingWA.

Marcella Polain (Writers in Prison Coordinator)

Marcella Polain arrived in Australia at the age of two with her Irish father and Armenian mother. She writes poetry, narrative fiction and lyric essays. Her work has won awards and been published internationally and in translation. Her first novel, The Edge of the World, is based on her family's survival of the Armenian Genocide and was short-listed for a Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Her forthcoming novel is Driving into the Sun (2019, Fremantle Press). She is Senior Lecturer in Writing at Edith Cowan University.

Rosemary Sayer (Membership Coordinator)

Rosemary Sayer is a writer and former journalist. She has written three non-fiction books and is currently completing a PhD at Curtin University which explores her dual interests in writing and human rights. Rosemary also works as a sessional lecturer and tutor at Curtin and as a research assistant at the University’s Centre for Human Rights Education. She serves on the board of the Edmund Rice Centre, a not for profit organisation that helps people from refugee and other migrant backgrounds as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people. She has served as a director on many boards in Australia and overseas including the Hong Kong International Literary Festival and writingWA.

Caroline Wood (Deputy Chair)

Caroline Wood is Co-Founder and Director of the Centre for Stories and Margaret River Press. She has held senior management positions in the private sector and universities. She served on Board of the Small Publishers Network and Amnesty International (Australia), was President of the WA Branch of Amnesty International and convened Amnesty’s first Stop Violence Against Women’s International Conference. She is also the Co-Founder of the Australian Short Story Festival.
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Join PEN Perth

PEN Perth is always looking for new members!

Membership of PEN Perth is open to all who subscribe to the aims of the PEN Charter, without regard to nationality, language, race, colour or religion.

Membership to PEN is about participating in a community of fellow writers who are concerned with politics and the freedom of expression. Membership allows you to vote at the annual general meeting, attend PEN International Congress, contribute to the discussion and direction of PEN Perth, participate in local letter-writing evenings, and receive campaign alerts to take action. You might occasionally receive discounts on our tickets, but membership is not transactional in an economic sense, it’s about supporting an non-profit organisation you believe in.

To become a Member of PEN Perth you must sign the PEN Charter and pay an annual membership fee ($80 full / $40 concession). If you would like to become a Member fill out and sign this document attached and email it to

We also encourage members and non-members alike to come to our events, participate in our campaigns, write a letter to a government on behalf of an imprisoned writer, follow us on Twitter or simply subscribe to keep up to date on our work.

The PEN Charter

The PEN Charter documents the core beliefs of the organisation, which each member must sign up to and support. They are a short statement of where PEN stands on the main issues that matter to us. Read them and get in touch if you have any questions.

PEN affirms that:

  • Literature knows no frontiers and must remain common currency among people in spite of political or international upheavals.
  • In all circumstances, and particularly in time of war, works of art, the patrimony of humanity at large, should be left untouched by national or political passion.
  • Members of PEN should at all times use what influence they have in favour of good understanding and mutual respect between nations and people; they pledge themselves to do their utmost to dispel all hatreds and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace and equality in one world.
  • PEN stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations, and members pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community to which they belong, as well as throughout the world wherever this is possible. PEN declares for a free press and opposes arbitrary censorship in time of peace. It believes that the necessary advance of the world towards a more highly organised political and economic order renders a free criticism of governments, administrations and institutions imperative. And since freedom implies voluntary restraint, members pledge themselves to oppose such evils of a free press as mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood and distortion of facts for political and personal ends.
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Our Campaigns

PEN Perth is involved in a number of local, national, regional and international campaigns. We are firmly grounded in our place in the world and seek to be a good citizen no matter what public sphere we belong to. This includes thinking about our role in Australia, the Indian Ocean and South East Asia, as well as our historic and ongoing connections to Europe and North America.

Our campaigns include:

Free Press

One cornerstone of PEN International, is working for a free press. This is one of our central tenets and affirms the role of writers and journalists to have their say on matters of culture, economics, politics, the environment and religion. PEN Perth works on these matters to support writers at home and abroad who seek a robust free press. We are particularly committed to ensuring writers can work without censorship, sanction and intimidation.


One of the most public figures in the current refugee situation in Australia is imprisoned man Behrouz Bouchani. A journalist and writer, PEN (and the Melbourne Centre in particular) has been active in working for his release from detention. Behrouz is one of many hundreds of people who are denied their human right to seeki asylum. PEN Perth stands with refugees and seeks to have a balanced and informed public conversation about human rights on this issue.

Big Data

In the digital era, PEN Perth is active on the issue of personal data use by multinational corporations. This means we hold discussions about the ability of companies to harvest and sell our information for profit and without our consent. This is an issue that affects all people and writers in particular precisely because data can be used for unwanted, political purposes.

Citizen Surveillance

PEN Perth maintains an interest in citizen surveillance by national governments. This includes campaigning for greater transparency and the policing of corruption, maintaining freedom of information, protecting the rights of voters, ensuring that citizens are able to conduct themselves privately within reasonable bounds.

Dictatorship & Democracy

PEN Perth is concerned with the rise of strong men across the world, from the Philippines to India, Turkey to America. We are committed to supporting writers and journalists in those countries as they are intimidated, jailed and killed for voicing their own perspectives and working towards stable and open democracy.

Responsible Freedom of Expression

PEN works for the responsible freedom of expression right around the world. This means maintaining an ability to articulate a perspective without being defamatory, false or malicious. In an era of fake news and with the rise of extremist minorities and governments, PEN Perth is committed to making our public debates forthright, honest and respectful.

Writers in Prison

At the apex of PEN Perth’s activity we are involved with a number of other Centres to ensure the release of writers and journalists who have been wrongfully imprisoned. This means being advocates for those who are in jail and working towards their release into a society that is safe and values them and their work. This is a fundamental tenant of PEN International and what we work hardest for.

If you have an issue you care about, please get in touch and we can discuss how you can be involved and how PEN Perth can help. We are interested in collaborations with all kinds of organisations and we can put on any number of fundraisers and events, including letter writing campaigns; talks, conversations and lectures; dinners, bake sales and movie screenings; conferences and meetings.
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Upcoming Events

To make you see illustration with pens and gramaphone

Spotlight on Burma
— presented by Perth Festival and PEN Perth

20 February 2019, 7pm
Centre for Stories, Northbridge

Burma, also known as Myanmar, is a country of over 50 million people in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by India and Bangladesh to its west, Thailand and Laos to its east, and China to its north. These neighbouring countries as well as the various colonial occupiers throughout its history have influenced and merged with Burma’s indigenous cultures to create a rich tradition of language, cuisine, music, dance and theatre.

‘Spotlight on Burma’ is part of PEN Perth’s interest in human rights and the responsible freedom of expression in our Indian Ocean region. Join us and members of the Perth Burmese community for an evening of reflection and readings hosted by local Burmese intellectual Chris Lin. This event is an opportunity for you to hear about ongoing social, political and cultural issues of Burma, and, includes a selection of translated creative works read by Holden Shepherd and Michelle Johnston. Light refreshments of traditional Burmese food will also be served!

Participant biographies:
Chris Lin completed a PhD in Cultural Studies, writing on the aesthetics of movement in recent screen and print media, and works in curriculum management at the University of Western Australia. He is a keen contributor at local literary festivals and events and enjoys working with writers.

Dr Michelle Johnston is both an emergency physician and author. On a good day it is difficult to tell the difference. She works part-time in the Emergency Department at Royal Perth Hospital, and her first novel, Dustfall, about medical error and the asbestos mines of Wittenoom, was released by UWA Publishing in February 2018.

Holden Sheppard is an award-winning author raised in Geraldton, Western Australia and now based in Perth. His debut YA novel Invisible Boys, about teenage boys growing up gay in the country, won the 2018 City of Fremantle T.A.G. Hungerford Award and will be published by Fremantle Press in October 2019. His novella Poster Boy, a story of internalised homophobia set against the backdrop of Australia’s 2017 same-sex marriage postal survey, won the 2018 Novella Project competition and was published in Griffith Review. Holden’s writing has also appeared in Ten Daily, the Huffington Post, page seventeen and Indigo Journal.

This event is now at capacity but we will be streaming it live on Facebook.

To make you see illustration with pens and gramaphone

You are not alone
— a monthly letter writing night

NEXT: 4 March 2019, 6.30pm
Centre for Stories, Northbridge

PEN Perth has a regular letter writing night on the first Monday of each month at the Centre for Stories. Letter writing campaigns are an important way to take action on behalf of writers by writing to governments, local and foreign. On these nights we will also write to writers and journalists that are imprisoned to let them know that they are not alone. Come write letters of solidarity with us — all welcome! RSVP on our Facebook page here.

Previous Events

To make you see illustration with pens and gramaphone

Judith Rodríguez in memoriam
— an evening of poetry

13 February 2019
Centre for Stories, Northbridge

In late 2018 our friend, colleague and fearless defender of free expression, Judith Rodríguez passed away. To celebrate Judith’s amazing life and contribution, PEN Perth held a reading of her work on what would have been her 83rd birthday, the 13th of February.

Judith Rodríguez was a distinguished Australian poet and human rights advocate. She served the PEN community for many years in many roles, both locally and internationally. Judith published numerous volumes of poetry, some illustrated by her own woodcuts. The title poem of her first solo collection, ‘nu-plastik fanfare red: and other poems’ (1973), has remained an anthology favourite. Judith was much loved in Australian and international writing communities as a mentor, teacher, and supporter of emerging writers. From 1979 to 1982, she was poetry editor for Meanjin, and from 1988 to 1997 she was a poetry editor with Penguin Australia. She taught at universities on four continents and read her poetry in Europe, North America, and India. In 1994, she was made a Member of the Order of Australia for services to literature. This is just one of her many awards and accomplishments. She is survived by her four children: Sibila, Ensor, Rebeca, and Zoë Rodríguez, and her second husband, Tom Shapcott.

To make you see illustration with pens and gramaphone

To make you see
— PEN Perth at the Australian Short Story Festival

21 October 2018
Centre for Stories, Northbridge

Joseph Conrad said that he was trying 'by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel, it is, before all, to make you see'. Governments and other powerful social forces have sometimes thought that writers make people see all too well. At the 2018 Australian Short Story Festival PEN Committee Members Dennis Haskell, Marcella Polain and Rosemary Sayer reflected on the power of the word and its conflicts with the sword.

Liu Xiaobo

No Enemies, No Hatred
— a collective reading of the work of writers who are or have been imprisoned

23 August 2018
Centre for Stories, Northbridge

Members of the Perth literary community gathered at the Centre for Stories in August to read selections of the work of writers who have been or are detained. This was intended to recognise the continued restraints on freedom of expression all over the world.

We featured the work of the following writers: Behrouz Boochani (indefinitely detained for seeking asylum, Manus Island); Zehra Dogan (convicted of 'propagandising for a terrorist organisation', Turkey); Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh 'Mother Mushroom' (convicted of 'conducting propaganda', Vietnam); Dareen Tatour (convicted on on charges of 'incitement to violence and support for terror organizations', Isreal); Liu Xia (recently released, formally held under house arrest for eight years after never being accused or convicted of any crime, China); Liu Xiaobo (died in custody in 2017, detained for 'inciting subversion of state power', China); and, Razan Zaitouneh (missing since 2013, suspected forced disappearance and feared dead for documenting human rights violations by the Syrian government, Syria).

Helping us give voice to these writers was Jay Andersen, Rebekah Craggs, Nadia King, Chris Lin, Kirsti Melville, Susan Midalia and Rok Riley.

*Illustration of Liu Xiaobo, author of many texts including ‘No Enemies, No Hatred’ (2012), in which this event is named after.

Peter Greste

Peter Greste —
an interview with Victoria Laurie

31 May 2018
State Library Theatre

In May we held an evening of insightful conversation with award winning journalist Peter Greste. Joined by Victoria Laurie, Greste spoke to issues of media censorship, freedom of expression in times of war, human rights, the role of writing, and how people can participate as private citizens in safeguarding democracy.

Sydney-born PETER GRESTE is an internationally recognised journalist concerned with questions of politics, media freedom and war. He has worked for Reuters, CNN and the BBC in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. For his work on media freedom and human rights, he has won awards from the Walkley Foundation, the RSL’s ANZAC Peace Prize, and the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Human Rights Medal. He is the author of The First Casualty published by Penguin. PEN International helped work for Peter’s release from an Egyptian prison where he was incarcerated in 2013 for reporting that was ‘damaging to national security’. In 2018, he commenced his position as UNESCO Chair in Journalism and Communications at the University of Queensland.

VICTORIA LAURIE is an author and senior reporter with The Australian newspaper in the Perth bureau.

This event was brought to you by PEN PERTH, The Media, Entertainment And Arts Alliance, the State Library Of Western Australia, the Centre for Stories, and the Alex Hotel. Books were available from our friends at Boffins.

Sisonke and Priya

Priya Basil and Sisonke Msimang: art, activism and the culture wars

5 April 2018
Centre for Stories, Northbridge

In April, PEN Perth hosted a coversation between Priya Basil and Sisonke Msimang. Priya Basil is a British author and political activist. Her work has been translated into over half a dozen languages, and her first novel Ishq and Mushq, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. She is the co-founder of Authors for Peace and an initiator of the movement Writers Against Mass Surveillance. Sisonke Msimang is a South African author and activist. Her first book, Always Another Country: A memoir of exile and home was released in South Africa in 2017 and will be out in Australia in August 2018. She sits on the board of PEN South Africa.

Empty Chair Illustration

Empty Chair

Perth Writers Week
24-25 February 2018

At the 2018 Perth Writers Week, PEN Perth had a number of sessions with an empty chair. The empty chair is used to symbolise a writer in prison who would otherwise be at the event. It is used as a way to remember people and to remind the audience of the work that needs to be done by activists today. The Empty Chair is often used by PEN at many of its events around the world and it allows us to respect writers in prison, recognise their absence, and work towards their release.
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PEN Perth is currently based at the Centre for Stories at 100 Aberdeen Street. If you would like more information about PEN Perth please contact us at

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