PEN International 100 years. Discussion at Helsinki Book Fair

Helsinki Book Fair:

PEN Finland will be hosting newly elected President of PEN International Burhan Sönmez (Turkey) and board members Kätlin Kaldmaa (Estonia) and Regula Venske (Germany). Interviewer: Finnish PEN’s President Veera Tyhtilä.

PEN International is a worldwide association of writers, founded in London in 1921 to promote friendship and intellectual cooperation among writers. In a hundred years, the organization has grown to bring together writers from all over the world and in 2021 it has 146 centres, most of them in non-European regions. The members from the Board of PEN International talk about the organization’s history and present, goals, and the situations of writers around the world.

Burhan Sönmez is the President of PEN International, elected at the Centennial Congress in September 2021. He is the author of five novels that have been translated into forty two languages. He was born in Turkey and grew up speaking Turkish and Kurdish. He worked as a lawyer in Istanbul before going to Britain as a political exile. His writing has appeared in papers including The Guardian, Der Spiegel, and La Repubblica. He translated the poetry book of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake into Turkish. He lectured in Literature at the university of METU. He received the Vaclav Havel Library Award in 2017 and the EBRD Literature Prize in 2018. Sonmez is a dual Turkish/British national. He lives between Istanbul and Cambridge.

Regula Venske, b. 1955, is a scholar of literature and a writer of novels, short-stories, essays, reviews and experimental prose. Now and then she will throw in a love-poem, too. She lives in Hamburg, Germany, and has been a member of German PEN since 1998. She served as General Secretary of the organization from 2013-2017 and as President from May 2017-October 2021. Since Oct. 2015, she has also been a member of the PEN International Board. For more information, please see

Kätlin Kaldmaa is an Estonian poet, writer, translator and literary critic. She has published four collections of poetry, two books for children, an autobiographical work of non-fiction, and a novel. She has translated over 40 books into Estonian by authors such as Jeanette Winterson, Aphra Behn, Michael Ondaatje, Ali Smith, Goran Simić and Gabriel García Márquez. Her own poems have been translated into Arabic, English, Korean, Latin, Japanese, Russian, Slovenian, Turkish and others She is the President of Estonian PEN.

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