First Canadian named president of International PEN

Canadian writer John Ralston Saul has been named the president of International PEN, the 88-year old organization that promotes literature and defends freedom of expression.

Saul is the first Canadian to be elected president of the organization. He is a former president of PEN Canada, the group’s Canadian arm.

Saul said in a press release:

“International PEN is the world’s most important and oldest freedom of speech and literary organisation. Almost 1,000 writers who are in prison or are in danger around the world look to us for help. We have to invent new ways of turning back the rise of authoritarian controls.

“Threats to freedom of speech are expanding in new directions, especially with the rise of populism in the post-9/11 world.

“In addition, hundreds of minority and indigenous languages and cultures are in danger of extinction. This is the ultimate denial of freedom of speech.”

Other Canadians involved in International PEN are author Margaret Atwood, who was made an honorary vice-president in 2007, and Toronto Star journalist Haroon Siddiqui, who is on the board.