Published: 17 June 2016

Safeguarding freedom of expression

Professor of English Literature Marion Wynne-Davies, founder of the subject as a discipline at the University, holds a lifelong interest in freedom of expression. She has recently been commissioned to write a three-volume history of PEN International for Bloomsbury Publishing.

Dangerous Words: the history of Pen International examines the fraught relationship between literature and politics from the end of World War One to the present-day war against terror through access to the archive of the international organisation, PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, Novelists), which champions freedom of expression and literature.

Professor Wynne-Davies said: “The theme that runs through most of my research is Freedom of Expression. Dangerous Words exposes how, over the last century, international politics has increasingly manipulated literature for its own ends. At the same time, this fraught liaison means that, rather than writing from within an ivory tower, modern authors have had to engage with the most significant events occurring across the globe.”

Professor Wynne-Davies has uncovered radical new material of major historical significance and with important relevance for writers today. This research, based on freshly unearthed archived material drawn from PEN papers at the Harry Ransom Center (The University of Texas, Austin), demonstrates that while freedom of expression was curtailed and ideals compromised, sometimes literature was able to change the course of events.

The ability of writing to influence politics is particularly relevant for today when freedom of expression is curtailed in so many societies. Professor Wynne-Davies’ research asks us, therefore, to champion authors from around the globe who dare to tell the truth.

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