Announcing the Cancelation of the 2020 World Voices Festival

PEN America World Voices Festival: May 4–9, 2020

Dear Friends,

We are writing to let you know that we’ve made the hard decision to cancel the 2020 PEN America World Voices Festival.

We come to this conclusion with heavy hearts. We were hoping that this awful public health crisis might ebb by May, and that we could emerge with the exciting events we had curated for audiences in New York and Los Angeles. It’s now plain such plans are neither realistic nor safe for our participants and our audiences.

We join the ranks of cultural institutions in New York, Los Angeles, and across the country that will temporarily go dark this spring. The World Voices Festival was founded in the wake of 9/11 to provide a beacon for writers and audiences from around the world and to build bridges across borders as an antidote to cultural isolationism. As a new and unexpected isolation is thrust upon us, we regret deeply that we won’t be able to shine that light or foster those vital in-person connections.

Right now, we’re working hard to find ways to carry the spirit of the PEN World Voices Festival despite the circumstances. The foundation of PEN America is a union of writers that transcends political, geographic, and ideological divides. Those connections remain strong, and we will find ways to fortify them in the coming days. The novelists, poets, essayists, translators, and journalists we had hoped to present at the festival have essential things to say. Many of them have recently published books, some translated to English for the first time. We invited them to appear at this festival because we are inspired by their words and are committed to their work.

That commitment is in no way diminished, and we are seeking new means to bring their words, ideas, and artistry directly to you through a variety of digital means (including a new podcast set to launch soon). It is, of course, a challenge for folks like us who enjoy gathering together, but we’ll find a path forward. Please bear with us as we discover the art of the possible in these trying times.

We’d love to hear from you if you have ideas about what is most useful and engaging under the circumstances, and in the coming days we hope you’ll join us online at and across our digital channels @PENAmerica to find new ways to connect. And while it may feel distant, we’re looking forward to starting work on next year’s PEN World Voices Festival, tentatively scheduled for the week of May 10, 2021.

In togetherness,

Suzanne Nossel, Chief Executive Officer
Chip Rolley, Senior Director, Literary Programs and Director, World Voices Festival


Does this mean there’s no World Voices Festival period?

Certainly not in its current incarnation, but we’re looking to our digital channels to explore new ways to share what we’d hoped to present in person in May.

What happens if I bought a ticket?

You will be refunded the cost of any tickets already purchased. It may take a few days for credit card charges to be refunded. We ask for your patience.

Couldn’t you just wait to cancel later?

Sadly, no. While we are hopeful that by May this crisis has passed, there are no guarantees. We just wouldn’t feel right asking so much of so many people and then having to shutter at the last minute. Plus, after CDC guidance over the weekend, we just didn’t feel it would be appropriate to move forward.

But I was excited to see my favorite authors! What can I do to support them?

Writers are being hit hard by the consequences of COVID-19. Book tours and events like ours are a precious opportunity to promote their work. Please buy their books, follow them online, and patronize your local bookstore online.