PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.
Founded in 1922, PEN America is the largest of the more than 100 centers worldwide that make up the PEN International network. PEN America works to ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others. Our strength is our Membership—a nationwide community of more than 7,200 novelists, journalists, nonfiction writers, editors, poets, essayists, playwrights, publishers, translators, agents, and other writing professionals, as well as devoted readers and supporters who join with them to carry out PEN America’s mission.
PEN America, a registered 501(c)(3) organization, is headquartered in New York City, with offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
- PEN America formed on April 19, 1922, in New York City and included among its founding Members writers such as Willa Cather, Eugene O’Neill, Robert Frost, Ellen Glasgow, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Benchley, and, as the first president, Booth Tarkington. PEN America’s launch followed by a year the founding of PEN International in London by Catherine Amy Dawson-Scott, a British poet, playwright, and peace activist who enlisted the novelist and playwright John Galsworthy as PEN International’s first president. The intent, in the wake of World War I, was to foster international literary fellowship among writers that would transcend national and ethnic divides. PEN America subscribes to the PEN International Charter.
- Our name was conceived as an acronym: Poets, Essayists, Novelists (later broadened to Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, Novelists). Over time, as Membership expanded to include a more diverse range of people involved with words and freedom of expression, those categories no longer defined who could join. Today, the “PEN” in PEN America does not represent an acronym.
- Jennifer Egan became president of PEN America in 2018. Egan won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel A Visit from the Goon Squad. Her most recent work, Manhattan Beach, won the 2018 Carnegie Medal for literary excellence and was selected as the One Book, One New York City novel to read. PEN America’s Board of Trustees is comprised of celebrated writers, artists, and leaders in the fields of publishing, media, technology, law, finance, human rights, and philanthropy.
- PEN America’s more than 7,200 Members live in every state. Our PEN Across America initiative, launched in 2018, responds to mounting threats to free expression with opportunities for Members and their allies to mobilize locally through public programming, campaigns, literary events, workshops, civic forums, and other projects that expand engagement with PEN America’s mission.
- Many notable writers are past or present Members of PEN America. A small sampling includes Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Edward Albee, Maya Angelou, Paul Auster, James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, Teju Cole, Don DeLillo, E.L. Doctorow, Roxane Gay, Langston Hughes, Barbara Kingsolver, Norman Mailer, Thomas Mann, Arthur Miller, Marianne Moore, Toni Morrison, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Lynn Nottage, Grace Paley, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, Richard Russo, Sam Shepard, Susan Sontag, John Steinbeck, Elizabeth Strout, Anne Tyler, Colson Whitehead, and many more.
- PEN America welcomes and celebrates emerging writers whose voices are adding to the literary experience. Among those who have been recognized through PEN America’s Literary Awards or brought forward to new audiences at our public events are Hermione Hoby, Morgan Jerkins, Crystal Hana Kim, Alice Sola Kim, Lisa Ko, Layli Long Soldier, Carmen Maria Machado, Darnell L. Moore, Alexis Okeowo, Helen Oyeyemi, Tommy Pico, Jenny Zhang, and Ibi Zoboi.
- Many others from the literary professions are Members of PEN America, including publishers, editors, translators, and agents, along with important allies among dedicated readers, human rights advocates, civil society activists, and many more who share our dedication to protecting and celebrating free expression.
Free Expression Programs
PEN America’s Free Expression Programs defend writers and journalists and protect free expression rights in the United States and around the world. This work includes research and reports on topical issues ranging from fraudulent news to censorship in China; advocacy internationally and in the United States in defense of press freedom and on other free expression challenges; and campaigns on policy issues and on behalf of individual writers and journalists under threat. Recent special initiatives include:
- Campus Free Speech: Through original research, campus convenings, and public programs, PEN America has taken the lead on a nuanced defense of free speech on college campuses that focuses on raising awareness of the First Amendment, engaging with a diversity of campus stakeholders, and fostering constructive dialogue across difference that upholds the free speech rights of all.
- Press Freedom Incentive Fund: Open to PEN America communities across the country, the Fund supports Members and their allies to mobilize their communities around press freedom, creating new constituencies to promote and protect a free press and information access as foundations for civic engagement and a healthy democracy.
- Online Harassment Field Manual and workshops to equip writers, journalists, and all those active online with practical tools and tactics to defend against hateful speech and trolling.
- The PEN World Voices Festival, a week-long series of events in New York City each spring, is the largest international literary festival in the United States, and the only one with a human rights focus. The Festival was founded by Salman Rushdie in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, with the aim of broadening channels of dialogue between the United States and the world—a mission that continues to have great relevance today.
- The PEN America Literary Awards annually honor outstanding voices in literature across diverse genres, including fiction, poetry, drama, science and sports writing, essays, biography, and children’s literature. PEN America confers more than 20 awards, fellowships, grants, and prizes each year, presenting nearly $350,000 to writers and translators.
- The PEN America Literary Gala in New York and LitFest in Los Angeles are celebrations of free expression and the literary arts. Each year, these events offer impassioned tributes, important calls to action, and moments of levity to audiences of authors, screenwriters, producers, executives, philanthropists, actors, and other devotees of the written word who share a commitment to the robust defense of freedom of expression in the United States and around the world. Recent honorees have included Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, and the student activists against gun violence. Celebrated writers serve as Literary Hosts for the events.
- Public Programming: Throughout the year, PEN America offers a range of public programs in New York, Los Angeles, and across the country on topics at the intersection of literature and free expression. These programs offer opportunities for audience members to engage with some of today’s most exciting literary voices and free expression advocates, with a focus on amplifying emerging and marginalized voices.
- PEN America is committed to amplifying lesser heard voices through initiatives such as the Prison Writing Program, which provides incarcerated writers with mentorship, awards, and connections to new audiences on the outside; DREAMing Out Loud for young aspiring writers who struggle with the realities of their undocumented status and with other obstacles; the Emerging Voices Fellowship that provides new writers isolated from the literary establishment with the tools, skills, and knowledge they need to launch a professional writing career; and Workers Writers Workshops that cultivate the writing skills of domestic workers, taxi drivers, street vendors, and others.
Frequently Asked Questions
PEN American Center, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) corporation registered in New York. We hold tax-exempt status. For more information, view our annual reports and financial statements. For further financial information, please contact Chief Financial Officer Praise Apampa at [email protected].