Liberty, language, and literature: Campaigning for freedom of expression since 1927
To celebrate Scottish PEN’s 90th anniversary last year we created an engaging travelling exhibition, showcasing nine decades of Scottish literature, activism and community.
Our story involves some key literary figures like Hugh MacDiarmid, Naomi Mitchison, and Muriel Spark, and an enduring commitment to campaigning against censorship and repression in the future. We highlighted the role of these Scottish writers in promoting freedom of expression and international understanding in the context of Scotland’s literary history since 1927.
The anniversary year may be over, but the exhibition doesn’t stop there. We are putting together more visits for 2018, where we will be able to collaborate with projects and partners to reach even more venues and audiences.
On this page you can see where we went in Scotland, explore photographs of the exhibition, and read a little about Scottish PEN’s enthralling history.
This tour was very kindly supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
HMYOI Polmont, Polmont, Brightons, Falkirk, UK
31st May - 1st June
It was terrific to link-up with the Many Voices project for the exhibition’s first outing, coordinating with Programme Tutor Amy Clarke and other staff with Fife College and the Learning Centre at Polmont. Writer and artist Sarah Short had been working with a group of young men for Many Voices (coordinated by Heini Huhtinen), who shared their work at the celebration event. It was a moving and enlightening experience to hear and read the work produced by the group and share lively discussion afterwards. A great start to the anniversary tour – connecting to PEN’s roots through the exhibition display, while going hand-in-hand with Many Voices allowed us to demonstrate the value of these kinds of activities.
Mitchell Library, North Street, Glasgow, UK
15th - 29th July
Taking over the third floor exhibition space, visitors could spend focused time with the display, or else experience it as they passed through.
We held an evening event of readings, featuring writers from the PEN anthology I’M COMING WITH YOU – also honouring the life of Irina Ratushinskaya, Russian poet, writer and dissident who died on 5th July 2017; and of Liu Xiaobo - the imprisoned Chinese Nobel Laureate who died on Thursday 13th July. Both writers campaigned tirelessly for the freedom to express themselves and greater respect for the fundamental freedoms of people in both Russia and China and beyond.
Orkney Library & Archive, Kirkwall, UK
28th August – 2nd September
We held an event linked with Many Voices exploring Orcadian poetry and song with writers Alison Miller, Sarah Jane Gibbon, Emma Grieve, Simon Hall.
Library, 2 Hellihole Rd
Linking with Many Voices, we held an event to launch the Orkney strand of the project. Led by Alison Miller, the event featured Orcadian poetry and song, and offered visitors to the library and exhibition the chance to sample the type of work Alison would be developing with participants in the coming months.
County Buildings, Wigtown, Newton Stewart, UK
25th September – 1st October
We were delighted to be included in Wigtown Book Festival during our Anniversary year, allowing us to connect with many more writers, readers and audiences. We held a discussion event ‘A Question of Immigration’ chaired by Brian Taylor and featuring the writer Marjorie Lotfi Gill, Alasdair Allan (Minister for International Development and Europe), and Robert Wright (Professor of Economics at the University of Strathclyde).
The Stove, High Street, Dumfries, UK
It was a pleasure to visit The Stove, which is such a lively and supportive community hub. We joined with the Open Book group led by Em Strang, to share readings from I’M COMING WITH YOU.
Bonar Hall, Dundee, UK
We were thrilled to be part of Dundee Literary Festival, where the exhibition was set up in the ‘milling’ area next to the festival café, inside the Bonar Hall – allowing visitors some space to reflect in between events.
Sir Duncan Rice Library, Aberdeen, UK
23rd October – 17th November
We enjoyed a lengthy visit to the Sir Duncan Rice Library at Aberdeen University, with a dedicated exhibition space inside the main entrance hall. An informal drop-in session was held on the first day, followed by a stimulating launch and reading event, led by Helen Lynch and making links with the University’s Word Centre.
Central Library, Corn Exchange Road, Stirling, UK
20th– 29th November
At Stirling, we held an informal drop-in session on the first day, and library users were able to experience the exhibition as they browsed the shelves.
Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh, UK
The last stop of 2017 took us to the Scottish Parliament building, with our display sponsored by John Swinney MSP. The exhibition was installed at the Garden Lobby display area, allowing staff and visitors to the building space to engage with the information. The exhibition was given a further boost when MSP Maree Todd shared her thoughts and images over social media, also having seen the display at Wigtown. The anniversary year closed with an event at Scottish Poetry Library for Human Rights Day, where some of the exhibition panels were also put on display. The engaging readings and lively discussion left us all with an appetite for more, as we started to look to the year ahead.