The official Greek branch of PEN International is a fact!
After a year and a half during which people from the field of books in Greece worked hard and were constantly in communication with PEN International, the establishment of PEN Greece was voted unanimously at the International Conference of PEN International. PEN International is an international network of authors and book people, founded in 1921 in London, to promote literature, collaboration between authors and writers of countries as well as to defend freedom of speech. It operates in more than 100 countries with more than 140 national centers.
The goals of the Greek PEN is the effort to strengthen the extroversion of Greek literature, the creation of communication channels between Greek authors with people from other literary backgrounds, the contribution to the dissemination of literacy at the national level, the undertaking of actions and the support of initiatives that always aim in the preservation and safeguarding of the right to freedom of expression and the circulation of ideas.
The ‘nuclear’ team that took the initiative for the establishment of PEN Greece consists of: Christos Ekonomou, Erifili Maroniti, Dimitris Sotakis, Dina Sarakinou, Panina Karydi, Tessy Baila, and Lina Pantaleon, who are members of the interim board. A group of novelists, poets, publishers who constitute the founding team of PEN Greece, gathered around this group and constitute the founding team.
Specifically, the founding team of PEN GREECE consists of the following (alphabetically):
Kostas Akrivos, Fiona Andrikopoulou, Eugenia Vasilakaki, Theodoros Grigoriadis, Stefanos Dandolos, Sara Thylikou, Michalis Kalamaras, Panina Karydi, Argyris Kastaniotis, Zefi Kolia, Panagiotis Kolelis, Elias Maglinis, Katerina Malakate, Dimitris Manoukas, Pavlina Marvin, Erifili Maroniti, Andreas Mitsou, Amanda Michalopoulou, Tessi Baila, Christos Oikonomou, Lina Pantaleon, Eleni Papageorgiou, Kallia Papadaki, Elisavet Papadopoulou, Vassilis Papatheodorou, Tatiana Papamattheou, Manolis Pimplis, Nestoras Poulakos, Anna Routsi, Dina Sarakinou, Danae Sioziou, Alexis Stamatis, Costas Stoforos, Dimitris Sotakis, Klaiti Sotiriadou, Ersi Sotiropoulou, Fotini Tsalikoglou, Makis Tsitas, Katerina Frangou, Thanasis Heimonas, George Chouliaras, Christos Chrysopoulos.
On March 8, 2019, at the Seraphio of the Municipality of Athens, the conference “The present and the future of Greek literature abroad” was organized by Literature.gr with the support and cooperation of the UNESCO organization, “Athens – 2018 World Book Capital”. 25 translators and Hellenists from 22 countries from all over the world participated in this day.
The results of the day demonstrated the non-existence of a specific strategy for the promotion of Greek literature abroad and were presented at a special event hosted by the 16th Thessaloniki International Book Fair. The study of the data that would lead to a systematic promotion of Greek literature led to a sad finding. In Greece there was no official branch of the global network that unites the writing world and the book industry in general, PEN International.
In the context of the events of the 17th Thessaloniki International Book Fair that took place online from 19/11 / 20-29 / 11/20 and specifically on November 29, 2020, the first official event of PEN Greece was presented with the theme: Why PEN GREECE now? which was coordinated by Dina Sarakinou, author, director of Literature.gr, treasurer of the interim administration PEN Greece and which was attended by Christos Oikonomou, author and president of the interim administration PEN Greece, Erifili Maroniti, journalist, coordinator of Athens Culture Net, Vice President of the Interim Administration of PEN Greece and Dimitris Sotakis, author, Secretary of the Interim Administration of PEN Greece. The event was greeted by the Secretary of PEN International and President of PEN Estonia Mrs. Kätlin Kaldmaa.
Dina Sarakinou stressed that the establishment of PEN in Greece will mark a new era in the field of Greek literature, both in Greece and abroad. Specifically, she said: “One of the most important issues that concern Greek authors is that of the extroversion of Greek literature. The establishment of PEN Greece, a flexible, active organization, which will operate in accordance with the principles of PEN International, will help Greek literature to gain more channels of communication with the rest of the world and will contribute to further raising awareness of the Greek public about all the issues which concern freedom of expression and speech. With the establishment of PEN Greece, Greek literature will enter a new era. To achieve this, in the last year and a half the team of the interim administration of PEN Greece had to work closely with the executives of PEN International, to present data on Greek literature and freedom of expression in Greece and to organize two meetings in order to present the international network, the values that govern it and the possibilities that open to Greek authors as members of PEN Greece “.
“Greek PEN is now a reality and this gives us the required freedom of movement to implement our ideas and plans”, noted Christos Economou who announced the official accession of PEN Greece to PEN International, “one of the most active organizations in the field of literature and freedom of expression. An accession that was unanimously approved at the annual international conference of PEN International, held digitally based in London, in early November 2020 “. Mr. Economou then referred to the history and activities of PEN International and analyzed the goals of PEN Greece.
Kätlin Kaldmaa thanked the members of the interim administration of PEN Greece for the cooperation so far and praised the fact that already this initiative, which started a year and a half ago, has embraced a large founding group, consisting of forty-two members, novelists, poets, publishers and readers, characteristically saying that she is very pleased to officially announce that it is a unanimous decision for Greece to join PEN International.
Erifili Maroniti characteristically noted: “There must be a policy, a networking, a study of the good practices of the countries that have managed to promote their literature, as well as thematic goals. Possibly the projection and promotion of Greek literature has to do with the overall projection and promotion of the narrative of contemporary Greek culture. Maybe we should reconsider what we are “selling” to our international interlocutors – beyond the sea and the good Mediterranean climate. If we rewrite the narrative of Greek culture, I think that the book of modern literature, poetry, essay will find its place and we will escape from what seems to be a trap of introversion: Abroad they know us about the ancient Greek literature and “As far as the newest and modern production is concerned, they know our two Nobel Prize-winning poets, Seferis and Elytis, Cavafy and the novelist Kazantzakis”. Mrs. Maroniti also stressed that: “we must highlight the benefits of networking, to formulate a policy, that is why we need the help of the State, we need resources, but also a break in introversion.”
Dimitris Sotakis said that: “although the right to freedom of expression is taken for granted, many times this does not apply, both in our country and in our neighboring countries. Even the position of women is not what it should be in Greece. There are social groups that can not be clearly expressed not only in relation to the functionality of their social status but also in relation to their artistic expression, such as the LGBTQI communities. That is why the establishment of PEN Greece is a burning issue, as it will be able to take a position in it, it can be a catalyst and work for the benefit of these minorities “. Mr. Sotakis underlined that specific goals should be set for the freedom of expression and the promotion of female literary expression and spoke about the need for visits to schools and educational institutions, so that children learn what freedom of expression means. As he said: “we may take some things for granted, but it is not and we should focus on it”. He also spoke about the people of speech who are imprisoned in different parts of the world and stressed that actions and events could be organized.
The speakers then referred to the future plans of the new organization, which include the effort to highlight the voices of the minorities that are a vital cell of the mosaic of the country’s narratives. The actions will be constantly expanded. Targeted workshops, mapping of Greek writers living abroad and sometimes writing in another language. Bilingual mapping at least of the libraries of the urban centers, but also of the bookstores. Support for the literature of women whose creations evoke sensation, support for translators and curators. Networking with the literatures of our neighboring countries to identify points of convergence. Collaborations for new designs and proposals. Utilization of 140 PEN centers based around the world. Mrs. Maroniti clarified that: “this is a huge effort, but its beginning is self-financed. “There are no external resources to fund the organization of actions, events or initiatives.”
In closing, Mr. Economou pointed out that information campaigns should be carried out with the aim of books, literature and the free circulation of ideas. Finally, he extended an open invitation to all and all to become members of PEN Greece. “This invitation is addressed not only to book professionals and creators, but to all those who are interested and passionate about literature and freedom of expression and want to be members of a global and flexible organization such as PEN International.”