Press release of December 5, 2022
Congress, general meeting, additional elections
PEN Berlin, founded in June, held its first congress and its first regular general meeting in Berlin this weekend. The main points:
1. Ayad Akhtar criticizes “climate of digital intimidation”.
Introduced by Daniel Kehlmann, PEN America President Ayad Akhtar, a playwright and novelist, gave the keynote address at Festsaal Kreuzberg on Friday. Akhtar criticized that “a climate of digital intimidation” is spreading in the U.S. “and with it the fear of speaking freely or even thinking freely.” It is true that never before in history has there been “so much speech, so much opinion expressed freely and without any inhibitions as today.” But the “great paradox” is that we are “in the midst of a cultural shift toward a discourse full of punitive prohibitions.” The full speech can be found here.
2. Fundraising campaign “Fire trucks for Kharkiv”
On the initiative of Ralf Bönt, author and founding member, PEN Berlin has launched the donation campaign “Fire trucks for Kharkiv”. The money will be used to purchase fire trucks from German fire departments to send them to eastern Ukraine along with drinking water tanks, mobile generators and other relief supplies. After the withdrawal of the Russian occupation troops, many villages are without electricity, heating and water. PEN Berlin wants to make its contribution.
On the Ukrainian side, the aid mission is coordinated by Peace Prize laureate Serhij Zhadan, who expressed his gratitude with a video message at the congress. “These are difficult times. But we have to survive them,” Zhadan said. “True, the trick is to keep talking, and talking is also a form of action,” added PEN Berlin spokesman Deniz Yücel at the campaign launch. “But sometimes it is just not enough.”
The following have already been recruited as first-time donors: Sebastian Pape family, PPI AG, Pape Invest, the Hapag-Lloyd shipping company and the DFB Egidius Braun Foundation. More about the campaign can be found here.
3. New election
At the general meeting in the Fritz Reuter Hall of the Humboldt University, the novelist Eva Menasse and the journalist Deniz Yücel, who had provisionally taken over these offices at the founding, were confirmed as spokespersons by a large majority.
Also confirmed as members of the board were the authors Simone Buchholz, Ronya Othmann, Sophie Sumburane and Joachim Helfer, the poet Alexandru Bulucz and the playwright Konstatin Küspert. The translator Sandra Hetzl, the novelist Julya Rabinowich and the publisher Jörg Sundermeier were newly elected to the board.
4. New members and total number
With the admission of 56 applicants, PEN Berlin now has 513 members. Among the new members are the German-Iranian LGBTQ activist and publicist Shadi Amin, the publicist and educationalist Micha Brumlik, the director of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Juergen Boos, the novelists Rabea Edel, Jan Weiler and Daniela Dröscher, the publisher Constanze Neumann, the ARD literature critic Denis Scheck.