Director, Prison and Justice Writing

PEN America, an organization working at the intersection of literature and human rights, seeks a determined, passionate and highly organized leader with expertise in issues surrounding mass incarceration to direct the Prison and Justice Writing program. This is a significant opportunity to bring vision and commitment to a unique program that amplifies the work of thousands of writers who are creating while incarcerated in the United States. This is a full-time role based at PEN America’s New York City headquarters. 

For more than five decades, our Prison and Justice Writing program has provided resources, mentorship, and audiences outside the walls to enable writers who are incarcerated to join and enrich the broader literary community. Committed to the freedom to write in U.S. prisons as a critical free expression issue, we leverage the transformative possibilities of writing to raise public consciousness about the societal implications of mass incarceration and support the development of justice-involved literary talent. The Prison and Justice Writing director will advance and leverage an existing body of work while developing new initiatives.

The director provides significant vision, hands-on guidance, management and support to all aspects of the department’s work, including the Prison Writing Program, the Freewrite Project that provides learning materials and support for writing groups,  the Incarcerated Writers Bureau, the Works of Justice editorial series, advocacy for book access in prisons, and collaboration with counterpart programs nationwide. Skills in team management and administration, budgeting, fundraising, grant writing and reporting alongside creativity and vision will be key to thriving in this role.

The director will provide support and guidance to enable the current five-member Prison and Justice Writing team as well as fellows and interns to excel in their efforts, supplying feedback and helping to shape and propel new ideas. Additionally, the director will participate in cultivating and engaging partners in literary, free expression and criminal justice realms; represent PEN America publicly; identify and pursue funding opportunities; envision and guide projects; and work collaboratively with colleagues across PEN America. 

This is an exciting leadership opportunity for a visionary program builder who thrives in fast-paced environments. The director will drive forward PEN America’s work in collaboration with expert free expression and literary colleagues and supported by an expanding organizational backbone of communications, fundraising, and operations teams. The ideal candidate will bring a working knowledge of mass incarceration in the United States, ideally with previous engagement with the issue in a work or volunteer setting. Connections with the larger literary landscape are also an advantage. Candidates representing diverse backgrounds—especially those with justice involvement—are strongly encouraged to apply.

In alignment with PEN America’s current policy, all applicants should be available to report to the office at least three days per week. This policy is subject to change.


  • Provide overall strategic direction and day-to-day management for the Prison and Justice Writing program, including visioning the direction of the initiative and ensuring delivery of its components 
  • Supervise the program team, recruiting when necessary and supporting strong performance through guidance, coaching, feedback, and assessment
  • Power fundraising to extend and expand program resources, providing close stewardship of relationships with foundations and individual donors and identifying new sources of support as well as preparing funding proposals and ensuring timely and effective grant reporting
  • Represent the program externally and provide thought leadership for the community engaged on mass incarceration issues and prison arts and education programming
  • Oversee the program budget, planning for judicious use of funds and ensuring meticulous tracking of grants, expenses and other budget components
  • Pursue opportunities for outreach through media and public events, and develop contact networks that place PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing program in relevant conversations and collaborations
  • Support and guide major events, including being a public presence and face of the program on stage, radio interviews, and more
  • Manage the success of all aspects of programming directly and through team leadership, including: 
    • Refining and developing the annual Prison Writing Contest and the through-the-walls mentor program as well as adding new systems and initiatives. 
    • Building the Incarcerated Writers Bureau to promote access to the work of incarcerated writers.
    • Advancing the Freewrite Project,  including dissemination of The Sentences That Create Us, PEN America’s book on writing in prison, as well as associated curriculum
    • Expanding advocacy efforts for the right to read and write in U.S. prisons
  • Represent the Prison and Justice Writing program across PEN America,  maintaining and developing organizational collaborations
  • Other responsibilities as assigned

All PEN America staff are considered to be stakeholders in the development of our shared organization. As such, staff play a role in varied activities within the workplace as part of their job responsibilities. These may include committees or task forces to work on office issues, diversity and inclusion, strategy projects, training, or other initiatives.


  • Substantial experience in mission-driven management with demonstrated capabilities in successfully delivering the full-range of program requirements, from blank-slate start-up to celebrated results
  • Expertise in issues surrounding mass incarceration and in prison-related programs along with a commitment to work at the intersection of these areas with free expression, literary culture, and social justice 
  • Credentials and networks within the literary community and/or the criminal justice reform space
  • Ability to work creatively and efficiently on multiple fronts, both collaboratively and taking independent responsibility
  • Flexibility to develop strategic vision as well as drill down to ensure success at granular levels of implementation.
  • Demonstrated success in  developing new project concepts and fundraising as well as stewardship of institutional and individual donors.
  • Program management expertise, including budgeting, expense tracking, and impact assessment
  • Organized work style, with the ability to thrive in a fast-moving work environment
  • A reputation for innovation and the ability to crack the code to solve challenges 
  • Excellent written and oral presentation skills
  • Digital skills, including in developing web pages, online applications, and social media outreach
  • Interest in contributing to the broader organization, including through cross-program collaborations and initiatives related to organizational development

Salary and Benefits: PEN America offers competitive compensation and full benefits. The salary range for this position is $95k-$105k, commensurate with experience. Candidates whose expectations are outside this range are welcome to apply, as PEN America is open to considering talented individuals at varying stages of their careers. PEN America’s benefits package includes medical, dental, and vision health insurance, paid time off, 10 paid holidays, pre-tax commuter benefits and a 403b retirement plan.

To Apply:

Please submit a cover letter, resume, and unedited writing sample to [email protected]. Use “Director, Prison and Justice Writing ” with your name as the subject of your email (for example, “Director, Prison and Justice Writing  – Jane Doe”). Please also share where you heard about this position in the body of your email. Only complete applications will be reviewed, and only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.

PEN America is an equal opportunity employer that does not discriminate in its hiring practices, and in order to build the strongest possible workforce, actively seeks a diverse applicant pool.

No phone calls, please.

About 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.