The Democracy of the Imagination Manifesto

The Democracy of the Imagination Manifesto


passed with unanimity
at the Assembly of Delegates of PEN International
85th World Congress
Manila, Philippines
October 2, 2019


Presented by Jennifer Clement, PEN International President

Per Wästberg, Emeritus PEN International President and Chair of the Nobel Prize for Literature
Eric Lax, Vice President of PEN International
Nayantara Sahgal, Vice President of PEN International
Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Vice President of PEN International
Paul Muldoon, Board Member of PEN America

The opening of the PEN International Charter states that literature knows no frontiers. This speaks to both real and, no less importantly, those imagined.

PEN stands against notions of national and cultural purity that seek to stop people from listening, reading and learning from each other. One of the most treacherous forms of censorship is self-censorship —where walls are built around the imagination and often raised from fear of attack.

PEN believes the imagination allows writers and readers to transcend their own place in the world to include the ideas of others. This place for some writers has been prison where the imagination has meant interior freedom and, often, survival.

The imagination is the territory of all discovery­ as ideas come into being as one creates them. It is often in the confluence of contradiction, found in metaphor and simile, where the most profound human experiences reside.

For almost 100 years PEN has stood for freedom of expression. PEN also stands for, and believes in, the freedom of the empathetic imagination while recognizing that many have not been the ones to tell their own stories.


We defend the imagination and believe it to be as free as dreams.
We recognize and seek to counter the limits faced by so many in telling their own stories.
We believe the imagination accesses all human experience, and reject restrictions of time, place, or origin.
We know attempts to control the imagination may lead to xenophobia, hatred and division.
Literature crosses all real and imagined frontiers and is always in the realm of the universal.

PEN International

Appeals signed:

So far no one
January 31, 2020
Support our work

We need your help to create projects and materials aimed to defend freedom of speech, popularize Ukrainian culture and values of independent journalism.

Your donation means support for discussions, awards, festivals, authors’ trips to regions and PEN book publications.

Support PEN

We recommend viewing: