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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA

The PEN HG Wells Lecture with Elif Shafak at the Ripples of Hope Festival

Updated: Oct 6, 2021

By Steve Cooke

You may know the name H.G. Wells as the ‘father of science fiction’ through such as The Time Machine and War of the Worlds. You maybe first become aware of him through film and television adaptations or even maybe Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds.

That was pretty much the level of my awareness before I attended Elif Shafak’s PEN HG Wells Lecture during the Ripples of Hope Festival at HOME Manchester.

I discovered that he was a former PEN president, and as well as being an author, both a visionary and human rights campaigner. He foresaw the creation of the worldwide web, most notably in a series of talks and essays entitled World Brain. Other of his revolutionary ideas were set out in The Rights of Man that influenced the development of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Elif Shafak used Wells as the inspiration for a passionate and very eloquent discourse around her premise that ‘The art of storytelling is one of our last remaining democratic spaces. Now it must become one of our main acts of resistance against dehumanisation.’

Elif Shafak is an award-winning British-Turkish novelist. Her latest novel 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and RSL Ondaatje Prize; and was Blackwell’s Book of the Year.

Simon Armitage had convened 30 poets from around the world to create a unique poetic response to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The poets unveiled this work for the first time, with music from Jaydev Mistry.

A moving and thought-provoking experience. My personal highlight being Linton Kwesi Johnson who has lost none of his passion and power.

Simon Armitage stated at the close of A Poetic Declaration ‘I have written the 31st Article! It states that everyone has the right to buy books of poetry. There’s a stall outside.’ A typically humorous statement but also a reminder of how important it is that we support freedom of expression and the freedom to write and read for all people around the world.

English PEN is one of the world’s oldest human rights organisations, championing the freedom to write and read. They are the founding centre of PEN International, a worldwide writers’ association with 145 centres in more than 100 countries. With the support of their members – a community of readers, writers, and activists – they protect freedom of expression whenever it is under attack, support writers facing persecution around the world, and celebrate contemporary international writing with literary prizes, grants, events, and their online magazine PEN Transmissions.

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