History of Scottish PEN

For nearly 90 years, Scottish PEN has been committed to fostering a dynamic literary culture in Scotland. This is vital for the nation to play its part on the international stage.

For nearly 90 years, Scottish PEN has been committed to fostering a dynamic literary culture in Scotland. This is vital for the nation to play its part on the international stage.

In 1921, in the aftermath of World War One, an international writers’ organisation was founded with the aim of building fellowship and support across frontiers. That organisation became PEN International, which has for over nine decades promoted literature, fostered cross-cultural exchange and championed freedom of expression. It is now the world’s strongest voice in support of writers and readers everywhere. With continuing attempts in many parts of the world to silence writers, its work is needed more than ever before.

Scottish PEN, founded in 1927, is the Scottish centre of PEN International. It was initiated by Hugh MacDiarmid and supported by many of the leading writers of the time. Today it includes among its members leading figures in Scotland’s literary community, from best-selling novelists to award-winning poets, biographers, historians and critics.

What does Scottish PEN do?

Over the years Scottish PEN has grown steadily in membership and influence. It campaigns vigorously on behalf of writers imprisoned and repressed. It brings together Scottish and international writers. It promotes Scottish writing in all its languages and encourages translation. It plays an important role in PEN International’s congress which is hosted each year in a different country. Scotland has been the host country on three occasions, most recently in 1997. In 2008 Scottish PEN hosted PEN International Writers in Prison conference in Glasgow. As well as strengthening the commitment to support threatened writers, it was an opportunity for PEN members from all over the world to get together and share experiences.

Shared experience, between writers and between readers, is a key feature of what Scottish PEN offers. Scottish PEN’s programme plays an important part in making connections and promoting exchange.


Events are organised throughout the year in different parts of Scotland. Regular highlights include Scottish PEN events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the annual Naomi Mitchison Memorial Lecture at the University of Glasgow, and an annual symposium to mark International Women’s Day in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh.

Scottish PEN is a member of the Literature Forum for Scotland and works with other Scottish literature organisations to promote writing and reading in Scotland.

How is Scottish PEN run?

Scottish PEN is run by an executive committee which meets about six times a year. Elections are held at the annual general meeting, usually in September. There are six main areas of activity, each with a convenor. Click on Writers in Prison, Writers in Exile, Women Writers, Writers for Peace, Writers in Translation, [Writers in Education ] to find out more.

Scottish PEN’s future

Membership of Scottish PEN is open to all who subscribe to the PEN International charter. We always welcome new members!

“PEN works hard to allow writers around the world freedom of expression. Scotland has an active community of writers who support PEN. The written word explains us to ourselves and others. Every nation, large or small, needs free speech – and to support PEN.” – Ian Rankin, member of Scottish PEN

“All my experience as a woman of Scottish background leads me to believe that the principles of PEN are especially natural to the Scottish character, with its independent-mindedness, its will to sincerity in public affairs, its sense of our being unquestionably born free.” – The late Muriel Spark, honorary member of Scottish PEN