Death of Siobhan Dowd


It is with deep sadness that I write to inform you of the death yesterday of Siobhan Dowd, 47, after a long struggle with cancer. Siobhan held several senior roles at PEN. From 1984 to 1990 she was the first paid director of the Writers in Prison Committee at International PEN’s London headquarters. During her seven years there she brought to the Committee working practices that while bringing a greater professionalism to its work, allowed for the flexibility and creativity that is essential for an international body of writers. In late 1990 she moved to New York where she took the post of Director of American PEN’s Freedom to Write Committee where she continued to fight for the rights of persecuted writers abroad, as well as to challenge attacks against the First Amendment in the USA. During her stay she earned herself the title of being among the “Top 100 Irish Americans”. While in the USA, Siobhan worked on gathering material for and editing the International PEN anthology, This Prison Where I Live” published in 1996 and which remains a key reference for PEN’s work.

Siobhan returned to London in 1997 to take up an MA at in Gender and Ethnic Studies with a focus on travellers and the Romany people. In 1998, Roads of the Roma, an anthology of Roma writings, edited by Siobhan, alongside academic Ian Hanson, and Romany PEN member Rajcko Duric, was published by the Hertfordshire University Press.

In 2000, Siobhan joined English PEN, setting up its Readers and Writers Programme, which she did with great success, as she did with every project she touched. Her work brought writers to new readers in prisons, schools and other institutions. She left employment at PEN in 2004 after twenty years, to live in Oxford with her husband, Geoff. She held post of High Commissioner for Children in Oxfordshire in 2004 before deciding to take up writing full time.

Siobhan continued to work on occasional projects for International PEN’ WiPC, right up to November 2006.  Most notable of these was the WiPC the report that she edited entitled Anti-Terrorism, Writers and Freedom of Expression in 2004 around which International PEN staged its campaign on the effect of the “war against terror” on writers.

In the past years, Siobhan’s writing has been prolific and hugely successful. Her first novel, A Swift Pure Cry, was published by David Fickling Books in 2006 and met with wonderful reviews. She was shortlisted for a number of prizes for the book, winning Children's Book Ireland Eilis Dillon Award in May 2007, and the Branford Boase Book Award in June. The London Eye Mystery was published in June this year, at a launch held, of course, on the London Eye. Her third novel, Bog Child, is to be published February 2008,  and a fourth, Solace of the Road in early 2009, also by David Fickling Books.

Siobhan’s mark on this world has been immense. Over her twenty years at PEN, she campaigned for hundreds, maybe thousands, of writers world wide who were suffering persecution. Her love of life, enthusiasm for writing, love of people – particularly adolescents , humour, capacity for friendship, and literary talent will long be remembered. She is greatly missed.

Read Siobhan Dowd’s website:

Also the entry in Wikipedia:

Siobhan Dowd’s funeral date is to be announced. Her  husband, Geoff Morgan, requests no flowers. A trust has been set up in her name that will celebrate and promote the sheer joy of reading to children and young adults. Messages to Geoff and Siobhan’s family can be sent to Sara Whyatt at [email protected] and will be forwarded.