About Us

What Is PEN America?

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 4,500 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’s programs defend writers, artists, and journalists and protect free expression worldwide. This work includes research and reports on topical issues; advocacy on free expression challenges; campaigns on policy issues and on behalf of individual writers and journalists under threat; year-round festivals and events; literary awards; fellowships; and more.

PEN America, a registered 501(c)(3) organization, is headquartered in New York City, with offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. and chapters in 10 regions.

Fast Facts

When Was PEN America Founded?

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.

Find out more about PEN America history.

What Does PEN Stand for in PEN America?

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.

Who Is President of PEN America?

Jennifer Finney Boylan became president of PEN America in December, 2023. Boylan is the bestselling author of 18 novels and the inaugural Anna Quindlen Writer-in-Residence at Barnard College. She succeeds Ayad Akhtar, who became president of PEN America in 2020 and remains on the board of trustees.

PEN America’s Board of Trustees comprises celebrated writers, artists, and leaders in the fields of publishing, media, technology, law, finance, human rights, and philanthropy.

How Many Members Are in PEN America?

PEN America’s more than 4,500 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.


Who Are Some Notable Writers Associated with PEN America?

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.

What Awards Does PEN America Give Out?

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, Ottessa Moshfegh, Alexis Okeowo, Tommy Orange, Helen Oyeyemi, Tommy Pico, Jenny Zhang, and Ibi Zoboi.


Is PEN America Just for Writers?

Anyone who believes in free expression or enjoys literary events is welcome to join PEN America.

Many others from the literary professions are Members of PEN America, including publishers, editors, translators, screenwriters, 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. Current initiatives include:

  • Free Expression and Education: PEN America’s free expression and education programs work with schools, colleges, and universities to ensure robust protections for academic freedom and freedom of speech are balanced with advancements in diversity and inclusion, as well as efforts to redress legacies of discrimination and inequity. Our team of experts engage in research, advocacy, trainings, public events, and youth programming, and we have developed specialized resources for college administrators, faculty, and students.

    • Freedom to Read: PEN America’s free expression and education team advocates for access to diverse literature in schools by tracking book bans in libraries and classrooms across America. PEN America also organizes regular public programming on issues related to free expression in knowledge institutions such as bookstores and libraries. PEN America challenges local book bans with advocacy campaigns and has filed a federal lawsuit against Escambia County schools saying book bans violate constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection under the law.

    • Freedom to Learn: PEN America is a national leader in fighting educational censorship in both higher ed and K-12, with a signature campaign against educational gag orders — legislative restrictions on the freedom to learn and teach that have swept the country since January 2021. Our Champions of Higher Education is a coalition to fight political interference and government overreach on campus.
    • Campus Free Speech: 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 that upholds the free speech rights of all. Through research and our Campus Free Speech Guide we offer pragmatic strategies and resources.
    • Next Gen PEN America: PEN America engages a rising generation around the importance of human rights and the freedom of expression with the Free Speech Advocacy Institute, a program for high school and college students to engage with free expression issues and learn professional advocacy skills from PEN America’s experts and guest speakers. The Free Speech Advocacy Institute includes a specialized Institute focused on global free expression advocacy, a leadership fellows program, and a national student essay competition.
  • Digital Freedom: Tackling issues such as disinformation, corporate and state mass surveillance, content moderation, algorithmic bias and accountability, privacy, and global internet governance, PEN America’s digital freedom program engages with the federal government, global governance, multilateral organizations, and tech companies to ensure that people have the ability to access quality information and to safely express themselves online.

PEN America Online Harassment Field Manual

  • Digital Safety & Online Abuse:  We equip writers, journalists, and all those active online with resources and training to defend themselves. We work with employers, including mediaorganizations and publishers, to develop policies and protocols to protect their staff and freelancers. We conduct research and advocacy to hold technology companies accountable for online harms; and work in coalition with partner organizations to tackle online abuse.
  • Disinformation: The proliferation of false information and rising distrust in the established news media, due in part to a deliberate campaign of denigration, pose a looming crisis for American democracy and civic life. PEN America conducts original research, publishes reports, and convenes public programming around this issue, engaging prominent literary voices, newsroom leaders, local journalists, community activists, election officials, and others to defend against the threat disinformation poses to our democratic process. Current efforts focus on Florida, Arizona, and Texas.

  • Washington D.C. Advocacy: PEN America engages with policymakers in a nonpartisan manner to promote and defend free expression rights in the U.S. and around the world; advocate for policies that celebrate literature, the arts, and the cross-cultural exchange of ideas and perspectives; and forge and grow coalitions with like-minded organizations. The Washington office conducts regular outreach and provides expert knowledge on topics such as global press freedom and free expression issues, digital freedom, surveillance, First Amendment rights, and the loss of local journalism in the United States.

  • PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center: PEN America’s bedrock work is long-term advocacy on behalf of individual writers around the world who are persecuted because of their work. With the help of our Members and supporters, PEN America carries out campaigns to win their release, ensure their safety, and enable them to write and publish freely. Each year, we publish the Freedom to Write Index, providing a count of writers and public intellectuals around the world who were in prison or detention because of their work, and award the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award to honor a writer imprisoned for his or her work. Out of the 52 jailed writers who have received the Freedom to Write Award since 1987, 46 were ultimately released due in part to the attention and pressure generated by the award and by coordinated advocacy efforts. PEN America engages in public events and direct individual case advocacy.
  • Focus Regions: PEN America works to protect freedom of expression and promote fundamental rights around the world, with particular emphasis in focus regions where we have developed expertise and built relationships on the ground. Focused projects on regions with acute free expression challenges include Eurasia, Ukraine, Myanmar, China, and the Middle East and North Africa, including Iran.
  • Artists At Risk Connection: PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) safeguards the fundamental right to artistic freedom of expression worldwide. Its mission is to ensure that artists and cultural workers can live and create without fear, regardless of their country or discipline. ARC plays the critical role of connecting at-risk artists from any country and discipline to available resources across a global network of more than 800 organizations, providing urgent support, fellowships, and legal support. In addition, ARC provides grants and technical assistance. Through collaboration with partners, ARC provides localized emergency support to artists at risk, builds cross-regional coalitions to raise awareness of artistic freedom issues, and advocates for policy reforms.
  • Russian Independent Media Archive: The Russian Independent Media Archive is preserving the last two decades  of independent Russian journalism, guarding this irreplaceable historical record against erasure as media outlets not aligned with the regime of President Vladimir Putin are shuttered and their reporters and editors cast into exile.
  • Press Freedom and Local News: PEN America works to defend press freedom and support the revitalization of the local journalism industry. We advocate on a range of press freedom-related issues in the U.S., including press freedom violations at demonstrations and surveillance of journalists. Our landmark “Losing the News” report dramatically shifted the narrative around policy solutions to the local journalism crisis and helped mobilize congressional attention to the state of the local news industry.


Literary Programs

  • The PEN World Voices Festival, a week-long series of events in New York City, Los Angeles, and online 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, Esther Allen, and Michael Roberts 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 writing, essays, biography, translation, 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 PEN America Los Angeles Gala 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, Salman Rushdie, 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, including PEN Out Loud,  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.

  • Prison and Justice Writing Program: PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing Program has amplified the work of thousands of writers who are creating while incarcerated in the United States. By providing resources, mentorship, and audiences outside the walls, we help these writers to join and enrich the broader literary community.

  • PEN America is committed to amplifying lesser heard voices through initiatives such as DREAMing Out Loud for aspiring migrant writers who are marginalized because of their immigration status; the Emerging Voices Fellowship that provides early-career writers traditionally underrepresented in the publishing world with the tools, skills,  knowledge, and community they need to launch a professional literary career; and Worker Writers School that facilitates poetry workshops with writers from the global working class, including domestic workers, taxi drivers, street vendors, and others.




Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about PEN America Membership, programs, our website, and more. Still need help? Contact us at [email protected].


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].