English PEN guidelines for authors attending literary festivals

The Society of Authors is often contacted by members asking for advice on attending literary festivals in countries with poor human rights records.

Speaking at festivals is an important part of a writer’s life but many are understandably concerned about being seen to endorse regimes that place severe restrictions on freedom of expression.

English PEN have produced a set of guidelines for authors attending literary festivals and international events. We would encourage authors to read these guidelines if you have concerns about whether to attend a festival or event.

English PEN’s position – which we share – is that it is an individual decision about whether to attend, withdraw or boycott an event. They suggest considering the following questions before coming to a decision:

  • Where is the event taking place?
  • Are there restrictions on what I can say?
  • Who is funding the festival?
  • Does attendance mean endorsement? How might my presence be used?
  • Is it a public event? Who is the audience?
  • If you have already accepted an invitation, what might withdrawing mean?
  • What, if any, are the potential risks associated with such activities?

Read the guidelines in full here.