Open Mic Night and Letter Writing Day - Tuesday, 19th November 2013

Posted: Wednesday, 13 November 2013 by UEL pen in Labels: , , , ,

A Open Mic night to raise funds for, and awareness of, Pussy Riot.

General encouraged theme of freedom of speech, but in the interests of freedom of speech - you can perform anything you wish! We'll also be holding an Empty Chair section where we'll read out some of Pussy Riot's work, to release their words into the world.

Anyone who writes specifically themed Pussy Riot themed pieces, in support of them, will receive a FREE BOOK.

To book your slot, please email Jack on - there are limited free-for-all spaces available, so do ensure you book in advance! Please make sure you tell us your act- whether it's poetry, a prose extract, non-fiction, comedy, music or playscripts - the more diverse the better, and all are welcome. It must be no more than 2-5 minutes in length.

Preceded by an afternoon filled with tea, coffee, biscuits and writing of letters of support to Pussy Riot and their families.

Letter Writing drop-in session: 2pm-4pm, Student Union Lounge
Open Mic: 5pm-7pm, Student Union Lounge
(The SU lounge is next to the cashpoints in North Building, Docklands Campus)

Intro to the case: Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova went missing whilst under the guard of Russian officials during her transfer to a Siberian prison on the 21st October. She and another member of Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina, are serving two-year sentences for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, for their impromptu anti-Putin punk performance in Moscow's main cathedral in February 2012.

Here is a link to a video article regarding the disappearance:

...this is the petition calling for the disclosure of her whereabouts, her release as a prisoner of conscience, and for contact to be reinstated between her and lawyers/family:

...and here is a documentary about the punk collective:

Be sure to 'follow' us on Twitter for updates on Pussy Riot and Tolokonnikova. @uelPEN

UEL English PEN Launch Party

Posted: Sunday, 13 October 2013 by Mandy in Labels: , , , , , ,

On Tuesday, the 8th of October, UEL English PEN hosted our official launch party at the Student Union lounge located on Docklands campus. After hours of food shopping, organizing the lounge and trying to make our projector work, we were ready to open the doors to the public at our scheduled 5pm time.

We were amazed at the amount of people who turned up, just as much as they were amazed at the amounts food and drinks we provided. We wanted to make everyone feel comfortable and it worked. We equipped the lounge with English PEN flyers, our ‘lucky book dip’ and we were also holding a raffle where winners received one of the amazing books we had on the display.

After a short introduction we invited Julia Zimmer, PEN’s events and development officer, who explained what English PEN does internationally, how big the organisation is and what we can do to help.
This followed by a short movie about what freedom of speech actually is and then continued with Tim Atkins, reading a powerful piece by a member of Pussy Riot.

After a short break, it was time for an open mic night! We encouraged students to come and read their work and were surprised at the amounts of people that shared their amazing writing. Among the pieces, we also had a privilege to hear a piece written by one of our classmates, who visited Turkey over the summer and shared the horror stories of the riots – her story is so moving English PEN asked to publish it on their website! You can read the piece here if you haven’t already.

We were also proud of everyone else who read their brilliant work which varied from political to comical. We’d like to thank every single one of them – you made us laugh, think and be creative!
The night finished with an announcement of the winners of our book raffle, which made everyone walk out happy and excited.

Again, we’d like to thank everyone who participated in any way in our launch – we never expected that amount of people and we were really humbled by your positive feedback. We promise to hold these nights more often as they bring us and our ideas closer together. Check out the pictures from the launch on our Facebook page!

Hope you are all having an amazing weekend,
UEL English PEN Society.

Istanbul, Turkey, May 2013. Mel's Story.

Posted: Saturday, 12 October 2013 by UEL pen in Labels: , , ,

Note from UEL English PEN:

This summer, one of our classmates went to Turkey, her home country. She was caught in the middle of the riots, and had some very distressing experiences. We asked her to write about it for our blog, and we also read it out on her behalf at our Summer Launch Party open mic session, on Tuesday 8th October 2013. The response was phenomenal, and English PEN, who were present that evening, have since requested to publish it on their website. Fantastic news!

This is her account of events that day. Thank you for writing for us, Mel.


Sleeping was impossible. Eating wasn’t a necessity anymore. All we could do was sit in front of the TV, watching the one channel that was brave enough to report the truth. In a nationwide media blackout the public turned to social media. Who can know the number of lives saved with simple retweets? Names and locations of lost children. Tear gas coming your way.  Blood needed. Doctors needed. Lawyers needed. Shelter needed. Twitter was there to help.

The streets were pandemonium. What was one minute a peaceful protest march suddenly turned into war. From water cannons blasting people off their feet and running them over, to pepper spray and tear gas fired directly at the crowd. An army dressed from head to toe in black, complete with black gas masks, like soldiers of hell descending on the people. They have a name. They call themselves ‘Police’. They attack, provoke, kick, punch, slap, drag… And we are called the terrorists? Who do you turn to? Who is your saviour? You are. You as a whole. There is no self. You look out for all.


That morning, my sister and I packed our bags for Taksim Square. We’d heard of the effects the gas had on eyes, several contact lens wearers had been blinded. Lemons were said to lessen the effects. My sister and I both wear lenses, so decided to pack our yellow swimming goggles, partly in jest, but partly because we wanted to be prepared for everything.

Getting to Taksim was difficult. We live on the Asian side of Istanbul, and Taksim is on the European side. Reaching it meant first catching a ferry from Kadikoy across the Bosphorus to Besiktas, then walking. Making our way to the dock in Kadikoy was difficult – the march had already begun. We grabbed a couple of Turkish flags and joined it.

It was the first time I felt a part of something so intensely significant. The trickle of a few hundred people grew by the minute, until thousands of us walked towards the docks. Animated voices, people jumping in joy, skipping, even. Coming together to become something bigger. Surrounded by a wall of people, up was the only direction I could look. The sun shone down on us, and I smiled. Even the heavens are on our side, I thought. So, arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder, we stood. And we sang our national anthem, we sang our hearts out. What can I even say about the voice of thousands of people, as they chant in unison?  So loud you can barely hear the words yourself… but you feel them instead. Feel them vibrating through the air, seeping through your skin, pumping through your veins. The heat builds, your heart is beating hard against your chest, the salty humid sea air is making it hard to breathe.  The scarlet flags rise against the blue of the sky, and suddenly the moon and stars join the sun.

The ferries had been put on hold, the Captains banned from carrying any passengers. Even though they risked losing their jobs, they made the journeys anyway. Thousands of people were transported across the Bosphorus, free of charge.

I felt a surge of dizziness just as I reached the two foot gap between the dock and the ferry. Without a word, several hands reached for me and pulled me safely onto the boat. We kept singing, and I leaned over the edge of the ferry to take in the view. The gentle breeze carried our voice through the Bosphorus. Passing boats applauded and cheered us on. The smell of tea and simit, a Turkish bread, the view of The Maiden Tower, the Bosphorus bridge… So much beauty and so much history. A city well worth fighting for.

As soon as we docked, we were met by a group of young men with huge sacks of lemons. They passed the lemons out to anyone who would take them, in anticipation of tear gas.

The crowd that greeted us was phenomenal, and I had thought our group at the docks was impressive. There were hundreds of thousands of people, as far as the eye could see and further. Everyone waved a flag, and we became an extension of the flag, an embodiment of what our flag stood for. We marched on, singing our anthem. One body, one voice, one purpose. We walked for freedom, we chanted for our rights. Istanbul groaned with the voice of the people.  Slogans rang out, ‘Government resign!’, ‘Tayyip resign!’, ‘Standing side by side in the face of fascism!’, and ‘We are the soldiers of Mustafa Kemal!’

Then, I witnessed the first shocking act of violence I had seen all day. A police van driving at great speed, then reversing into people on the road. The van burst forward again straight into a car, in which a family with small children cowered. This happened less than three feet away from me.

I was rooted to the spot and silently watched as six or seven men ran to the van and surrounded it. And then all hell broke loose. Rocks and shards of glass rained out of the sky, there was screaming, running, my heart was in my mouth. I lost my sister in the crowd, was searching through the arms and legs… And then something amazing happened. It started as a whisper among the roar, then the whisper grew louder and stronger. ‘Don’t’ they cried. The power of the word is lost in translation. The hidden message of stop, don’t harm anyone, calm down… all in one word. The rain of rock and glass stopped. I found my sister. And police who had so unashamedly provoked and hurt the people, were saved by them.


My sister and I finally managed to reach Gezi Park. Tents; people camping, lying on the grass, playing guitars, singing, laughing. A million miles away from what we’d just seen. White banners tied up on brilliantly green trees; the smell of cooking meat wafting through the air; people handing out pamphlets with legal advice, names and numbers of doctors... Makeshift first aid tents, veterinary tents, canteens, a library made from industrial bricks, memorials for those who had perished in protests… It was all so... human.

It made me so proud. Proud to see that community still existed, that we could depend on each other. It made everything worth fighting for.

It was getting late, and my sister and I decided to return – but when we reached the ferries we discovered that the police, wielding tear gas and pepper spray, had barricaded the docks with water cannons. They were already blasting. People milled around, uncertain. Unprovoked, the police suddenly charged at us, firing their sprays and gas. Everybody ran.

In shock I grabbed the goggles and tried to pull them over my eyes, but they wouldn’t stay. A few seconds later an enormous orange cloud erupted around us. The acrid smell of stale burnt plastic filled my lungs. My sister grabbed my hand and we ran from the police who were charging us. A jungle of feet, orange smoke, panicked screams… The smoke was fire in my throat and made me heave. In my shock I stopped breathing. Suddenly, a door was flung open to my left, and along with at least 20 others, we threw ourselves through the opening. ‘Upstairs!’ a voice cried, ‘go upstairs!’

I’ll never forget that voice.

We ran up the spiral staircase, as far as we could go, before entering a spacious, brightly lit room. I fell to the floor, and lay on my back. All I could hear was the coughing and spluttering of people in the room, over the muffled bedlam outside. The woman that had opened the doors reached for me, and I was taken to the next room to sit on an armchair surrounded by wedding dresses. I looked around and realised I was in one of the most prestigious designer wedding gown boutiques in Istanbul. I stared at the dresses, so pure and white, unblemished… then at the window next to the display, which kept out the horror of the world outside. Well this is fucking ironic, I thought to myself.

When we eventually left the bridal store, the burning smoke was still in the air, and with hands covering our mouths, we ran into the maze of side streets.

The taxi journey home was a quiet one. We sat slumped against the back seat. How can I possibly describe how I felt in that moment? Relief that I was alive? Fear that I was still so far from home? How about anger at the injustice of it all? Grief for those lost? Shock? Hate? Love?

Have you ever felt an emotion so strong, it’s almost tangible? Could you multiply that emotion tenfold – more? Imagine that kaleidoscope of feelings consuming your entire being.

Imagine what all that does to a person.


PEN's Turkey Focus 2013 campaign (taken from the English PEN website):

English PEN joins PEN International in welcoming the release pending trial of Dicle News Agency editor Fatma Ko├žak. However, we remain concerned by the continuing detention of 22 journalists being tried as part of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) ‘Press Wing’. The trial, which implicates 46 journalists in total (24 of whom have been released pending trial) as belonging to the urban limb of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has been widely described by observers as a crackdown on the Kurdish and pro-Kurdish press in Turkey. PEN calls for the immediate release of all 22 detained journalists pending completion of their trial, and the dropping of all charges against anyone accused of involvement in the KCK ‘Press Wing’ which relate solely to their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and association.

To take action and send a letter of appeal, please click here to be taken to PEN's website, where you will find a template already set up for you. All you have to do is fill in your name, email address and postcode. Couldn't be simpler. Help PEN campaign for writers rights in Turkey.

Fresher's Fair Recap

Posted: Friday, 20 September 2013 by Mandy in Labels: , ,

As Fresher's Fair comes to an end I'd just like to recap the last few days. It has been absolutely amazing to see that many societies together at University of East London and this was the first year when I can honestly say UEL's improving.

We'd like to thank to everyone who joined the UEL English PEN Society and to everyone who stopped by our stall on any day we were there - we all hope you learned new things and we'll hopefully see you really soon.

We are still looking for new recruits so please don't be scared to get in touch with us on if you're interested in holding more responsibility, but also having more fun!

We captured many moments during Fresher's Fair, which can be found on our Facebook page!

To all the freshers: we hope you had a fantastic week and have learned a lot, not only about English PEN but also about University of East London. Good luck with your future studies and we hope to catch you in one of our meetings!
(Here's a sneek peek of our stall with Sam and Mandy!)

What To Expect From Our Events...

Posted: by Mandy in Labels: , ,

Throughout the year, we’ll be holding these kinds of events and activities, plus more:
  • Empty Chair Evenings and Open Mic Nights Someone sits in a chair and reads out the banned work of a foreign writer, in order to release their words into the world.  We’ll also hold nights where students and staff are welcome to read out their work as part of our Open Mic nights.
  • Letter Writing Workshops and Meet-Ups We all write to writers who have been incarcerated, imprisoned, or put under house arrest for their work, expressing our support for them and appreciation of their work, in order to boost morale.
  • Petitioning Parliament for changes to laws in the UK and abroad with regards to free speech, libel laws and human rights.
  • Work alongside the UK’s other student PEN groups, to increase exposure of issues and the work we’re doing, as well as creating a UK-wide support network for our societies.
  • Book sales and raffles in which we raise money for PEN using books that have been donated to us (so far, we have around 300!)
  • Championing the work that English PEN does with prisoners and refugees, and within their translation programme, which enables obscure works from all over the world to become available to as wide a platform of readers and thinkers as possible.
Are you excited? Because we definitely are!!

8.10.2013 - UEL English PEN Society Launch Party

Posted: Thursday, 12 September 2013 by Mandy in Labels: , ,

We're proud to present a UEL English PEN Society launch party, which will occur on 8.10.2013 at 5pm in UEL SU Lounge on Docklands campus (nearest DLR station is Cyprus). We'll be featuring some guest speakers who will explain more what English PEN is all about and we'll soon inform you about other surprises that we have in store for that day!

Stay tuned!

16.9.2013 - 20.9.2013 UEL Freshers Fair

Posted: Friday, 6 September 2013 by UEL pen in Labels: , ,

Come check us out at Freshes Fair! We will be attending the UEL Freshers Fair at Docklands campus, where we will have a stall filled with various information about our society. We'll also be having a variety of fun activities so make sure you stop by and say hello!
More information coming shortly!


Posted: Tuesday, 27 August 2013 by UEL pen in

The University of East London’s English PEN Group, is a student-led subgroup of English PEN. Founded in 1921, and now one of the oldest human rights groups still in existence, English PEN has attracted some of the greatest writers across the 20th and 21st centuries in their campaign for free expression.

English PEN is the founding centre of the worldwide writers’ association PEN International with 145 centres in more than 100 countries, campaigning to defend writers and readers in the UK and around the world whose human right to freedom of expression is at risk. It campaigns for prisoners of conscience around the world who have been imprisoned for exercising these freedoms. PEN works to remove inequalities, where they exist, which prevent people’s enjoyment and learning from literature; and match writers with marginalized groups such as people in prisons in the UK, in refugee or detention centres and young people in disadvantaged areas, opening minds to reading and creative writing.

Founded in May 2013 by four Creative & Professional Writing students, the UEL PEN subgroup are looking for committee members from all academic backgrounds and years to join us - all you need to have is an interest in freedom of expression and human rights, a willingness to get involved and be passionate, and a savvy head on your shoulders. Our events will include open mic nights, writing campaigns, speaker events and other social meetings.
Please email us if you're interested on